Inequalities in Gender and Class: Representation and Budget Outcomes in the United States

About this Session


Fri. 08.04. 14:45



Speaker: Mirya Holman, Co-Author: Tiffany Barnes

Members of the working class are descriptively underrepresented in political office. Elected officials in the United States, across Europe, and in Latin America are wealthier, better educated, and come from different career paths than average citizens. Inequalities in representation matter in shaping policy outcomes: representatives from working class backgrounds support workers and labor policy and the representation of women in political office shapes policy outcomes in profound ways, such as budget allocation, legislative priorities, and policy outcomes. Despite the centrality of class inequalities in defining legislators’ priorities, evaluations of class advance an implicitly gendered definition of what it means to be a member of the working class. And, the policy consequences of gender inequality have largely ignored class, despite discussions of women’s policymaking preferences being deeply rooted in the feminization of poverty. We argue that our view of income inequality should be oriented to consider gendered patterns of occupational experiences and class. To do so, we propose a new definition of working-class representation: the presence of pink-collar legislators, or those with experience in low-status, low-mobility jobs dominated by women. Whereas women make up to 90% of jobs like child-care workers, they hold less than five percent of construction jobs. If we want to understand the implications of working-class representation more generally, and representation of working-class women more specifically, we have to consider the working-class occupations that are disproportionately occupied by women. Using this new definition of class representation that incorporates an understanding of gender inequality, we examine budget outcomes in US states. We find extensive evidence that women’s pink-collar representation is associated with a higher share of spending on education and social services in US states. This evidence suggests that class and gender inequalities intersect to shape policy outcomes via state budget allocations, with women’s pink-collar representation associated with increased spending on both education and social services. We find evidence that pink-collar policy-makers are responsive to public demands, but where pink-collar workers are absent from the policy-making process, budget allocations tend to favor privileged groups. In considering the pressures that these representatives face in crafting policies to benefit groups traditionally excluded from political power, we find that legislators’ own identity is more salient than inequality among their constituency.