Gender inequality in the workplace means everyone loses. But new research shows an increase in women legislators could be a matter of life or death in the U.S. — particularly for babies.
Patricia Homan, a Duke sociologist, analyzed political gender inequality and infant mortality in the United States from 1990 to 2012. Per her findings, “Higher percentages of women in state legislatures are associated with reduced infant mortality rates, both between states and within states over time.” Staggeringly, her study calculated what 2012’s infant mortality rate might have looked like with more women in office: “According to model projections, if women were at parity with men in state legislatures, the expected number of infant deaths in the U.S. in 2012 would have been lower by approximately 14.6 percent, or 3,478 infant deaths.”
For a rich country, the U.S. has a grim infant mortality rate — a 2014 report from the CDC puts it as the highest of the world’s wealthiest countries. If that’s not distressing enough, other recent reports highlight the rate’s racial inequities. Babies born to black women, for example, have a mortality rate more than double that of babies born to white women.
Though Homan’s study doesn’t try to figure out why fewer infants die in states with more female politicians, the sociologist isn’t without some theories: “Women who are elected may use their political power in ways that are beneficial for women, children, the poor, and overall public health,” she writes.