Back to search

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Redefining the Public Sphere: Education Reforms and the Inclusion of Women in Public Participation (REPS)

Alternative title: Den offentlige sfære omdefinert: Utdanningsreformer og inkluderingen av kvinner i det offentlige liv

Awarded: NOK 8.0 mill.

Women's inclusion in the public sphere—first as activists and voters and later as political candidates and public servants—sets the 20th century apart from the previous ones. More egalitarian gender roles are often argued to be driven by a gradual growth in socioeconomic conditions, including educational attainment. Contrary to this common narrative of a "rising tide", the inclusion of women in the public sphere is better characterized as a set of revolutions, where the first revolution gave women equal political rights as men and the second brought women into public offices on a mass scale. In the common narrative, the causal effect of education on women's inclusion is also typically assumed rather than empirically investigated. Indeed, we know surprisingly little about how education reforms, which gave women access to schools and universities as teachers and students, causally fueled the gender revolutions. By employing unique Norwegian data and natural experiments, REPS will provide novel knowledge of how education reforms contributed to the two gender revolutions. First, REPS examines how women's large-scale entrance into the teaching profession produced female political mobilization for suffrage, local gender role attitudes, and the passing of suffrage reforms in the early 1900s. Second, REPS studies how the post-World War II expansion of both secondary and higher education, which closed and later reversed the gender gap in education, altered attitudes toward women's political participation and gave women the resources and experience needed to stand for election and acquire public positions. REPS thus furthers our understanding of the turning points in women's inclusion in the public sphere. Stark gender differences in access to powerful public positions persist across the globe. The insights from REPS will help to provide policymakers with a better understanding of how education reforms can be used to promote gender equality in political participation.

The inclusion of women in the public sphere separates the last century from the previous ones. The first gender revolution was the enfranchisement of women. The existing literature suggest that suffrage reforms succeeded due to a combination of women’s activism and weak incumbents looking for voters to shore up their position. The level of women’s activism has, nevertheless, either been assumed to mirror economic development or been taken as exogenously given, which leaves us with only a partial explanation of women’s mobilization for enfranchisement and suffrage reforms. The first question this project addresses is thus how women’s large-scale entrance into the teaching profession fueled political mobilization for suffrage. Despite achieving equal rights to vote and stand for election, cultural norms were stacked against women replacing men as political candidates and civil servants. The second revolution, which brought women into political and civil offices, had to await the late 1960s. A vast literature on women’s descriptive political representation documents how it especially correlates with socioeconomic development and electoral institutions. Still, moving beyond macro associations to better understand the supply of female candidates have been hampered by a lack of detailed individual-level data on legislators over time. The second question this project asks is hence how higher education reforms enabled many more women to obtain the resources and skills needed to stand for election. To study these questions, the project makes use of causal inference techniques that exploits regional and temporal variation in several Norwegian education reforms in the 19th and 20th century. Coupled unique data on women’s inclusion in the public sphere as activists, voters, political candidates, and civil servants across more than a century, the project will provide the most detailed assessment the of link between education and gender inequality hitherto in the literature.

Funding scheme:

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren