Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Social Sciences Seminar
Abstract: While there is evidence of gender differences in the policy choices of elected leaders, less is known about what drives these gaps. This paper provides evidence on a novel mechanism: gender differences in responses to electoral incentives. Using a close election RD design in Brazil, we first assess whether female mayors handled the COVID-19 crisis differently during 2020, a year that ended with new municipal elections. We find that having a female mayor led to more deaths per capita at the beginning of the pandemic -- a period characterized by great uncertainty about the severity of the disease -- but to fewer deaths per capita later in the year -- a period where this uncertainty was reduced. Consistent with the evolution of deaths, female mayors were less likely to close commerce early one, and more likely to do so at the end. Moreover, residents in male led municipalities were less likely to stay at home around election day. We then show that these results are driven by municipalities whose mayors were not term limited, and thus allowed to run for re-election: while electorally-motivated female mayors were more likely to delay restrictive policies at the beginning, electorally-motivated male mayors were more likely to open-up the municipality at the end of the year. These behaviors can be rationalized by a simple model of political agency under uncertainty, where female and male policymakers have the same preferences but voters hold female leaders to higher standards, leading them to make different policy decisions.
Written with Juan Pablo Chauvin .