Contagious Representation

Women’s Political Representation in Democracies around the World

208 pages

31 figures, 28 tables

January, 2013

ISBN: 9780814784174



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Frank C. Thames is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University.

All books by Frank C. Thames

Margaret S. Williams is Senior Research Associate at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, DC.

All books by Margaret S. Williams

Women’s participation in parliaments, high courts, and executive offices worldwide has reached record high numbers, but this global increase in women’s representation masks significant variation among different democratic political systems. For example, in December of 2009, Rwanda’s legislature contained 56% women, while the U.S. Congress contained only about 17% and the Japanese Diet had only 11%. Since 2000, only twenty-seven women have achieved executive office worldwide. Contagious Representation is a comprehensive look at women’s participation in all aspects of public life in the main democratic political institutions—the executive, the judiciary, the legislature, and within political parties.
Moving beyond studies of single countries and institutions, Contagious Representation presents original data from 159 democratic countries spanning 50 years, providing a comprehensive understanding of women in democracies worldwide. The first volume to offer an analysis on all avenues for women’s participation for such a lengthy time period, Contagious Representation examines not only the causes of women’s representation in the main democratic political institutions but also how women’s representation in one institution affects the others. Each chapter contains case studies and examples of the change in women’s participation over time from around the world. Thames and Williams definitively explain the rise, decline, or stagnant levels of women’s political participation, considering how representation is contagious across political institutions and gaining a better understanding of what factors affect women’s political participation.


  • "Using the novel idea of contagion, this pathbreaking book is indispensable for those of us who struggle to account for the variations in women’s representation in diverse political institutions, regions and across time. It’s a must for women and politics courses."

    —Marianne Githens, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Goucher College

  • "Frank Thames and Margaret Williams’ concept of contagion – and their careful analysis of how women’s participation and gains in one institution affect their opportunities in other areas of government – pushes the scholarship on women and politics forward.They draw on a broad array of empirical evidence including both large n statistical analysis and case studies drawn from around the world to support their argument. By advancing our understanding of how inter-institutional relationships affect opportunities for women’s political participation, this book makes important contributions to the women and gender studies literature. Clearly written, the book is accessible to a wide audience."

    —Melinda Adams, Associate Professor of Political Science, James Madison University

  • "This is a very accessible book that provides rigorous qualitative and quantitative research methods and a theory that can be tested in other areas such as business.  Highly recommended for scholars of gender and political representation and a valuable text for women's studies, research methods, and political science students.  Summing Up: Highly recommended."

    —I. Coronado, Choice