The Real Reason Young Women Aren't Going Into Politics

Recently, I stood behind the curtain at the voting booth to place my vote for New York City's Democratic mayoral candidate and was struck by one thing. Out of a multitude of candidates, there was only one woman, Christine Quinn. Sure, most of the men running were well qualified with good ideas, but as I left my polling place, I continued to think about the list of candidates. Why aren't more women running for office?

Recent research shows that there is a large "ambition gap" between young men and women when it comes to running for political office. A survey and analysis run by researchers from the Women & Politics Institute at American University suggests various reasons for the gap: women get less encouragement to run for office, men are more likely to get involved in College Democrats or Republicans or read political news, and women are less likely than men to think they'll be qualified to run for office. But there may be another reason — when running for the high-level positions, it really helps to have a lot of money.

Many, many of America's presidents have been extremely wealthy. Starting with George Washington, the lists of presidents consists of a lot of rich, white (up till now) men. Many came from wealthy and well-connected families — the Bushes, Roosevelts, Kennedys. Even those who didn't come from wealthy families did achieve a certain measure of wealth before they got elected. The Obamas had royalties from two of the president's books, and Michelle Obama's salary as a hospital executive. Money allows one to forge connections between other wealthy people who can fund campaigns and affords one the time and freedom to seek office. With that in mind, it would certainly be more difficult for those with less wealth to run for high-level positions

The gender gap in politics is entwined with the wealth gap. 2012's Fortune 500 listed 18 women CEOs. Male-dominated jobs are higher paying. Women are more likely to work fewer hours or take a break from their careers to take care of children. The reason we haven't had a female president yet isn't that women don't want to be president: it's that women thinking about going into politics are inextricably limited by the broader cultural and economic norms for women in America.

Currently, women hold 20% of Senate seats and 17.9% of seats in the House of Representatives. How can we fix the gap? The researchers at American University suggest it's a matter of getting women to seriously consider running for office, as their research indicates that many don't even entertain the idea. Further regulating the amount of money candidates and PACs can spend on elections could be another way, although that wouldn't completely level the playing field in terms of connections and ability to take time off to run. If being a millionaire isn't an unspoken prerequisite to run for high offices, we'll see a broader swath of the U.S.'s population represented at the top areas of our government.