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In the Defense of Women: Gender, Office Holding, and National Security Policy in Established Democracies

Do women’s political gains in office translate into substantive differences in foreign policy outcomes? Previous research shows that men and women hold different national security policy preferences and that greater representation by women in the legislature reduces conflict behavior. But are these relationships an artifact of confounding variables? To answer this question, we analyze the defense spending and conflict behavior of 22 established democracies between 1970 and 2000. We argue that the ability of female officeholders to represent women’s interests is context dependent—varying with the level of party control over legislators and the gender stereotypes that officeholders confront. Consistent with the literature on stereotypes, we find that increases in women’s legislative representation decreases conflict behavior and defense spending, while the presence of women executives increases both. However, these effects are conditioned by the gendered balance of power in the legislature and the degree of party control in the political system.