As a graduate student at Rutgers University’s Women & Politics program, I conducted a lot of research on how being a parent (or being childless) works differently for male and female candidates. When I see I did “a lot of research,” I mean I wrote my entire dissertation on the subject and also published several academic articles and conference papers (links below). Here are some core insights from this research:
* Parental status matters in politics, though its effect on the candidacies of men and women is different. While for men, having children is most often an asset or additional credential, for women, motherhood most often functions as a liability.
* Compared to men, having children dampens women’s political ambition, as they are much more likely than men to weigh family considerations in their decision to run for office. Read my conference paper on political ambition and parental status here.
* Men are much more likely than women to use their children in their self-presentation–on the campaign trail, on their websites, and in advertisements. I wrote an article about it with my colleague and friend, Dr. Mona S. Kleinberg, that you can read here.
* Voters are most likely to penalize childless women compared to childless men as well as mothers and fathers. Childless women may be stereotyped as selfish, overly ambitious, and ill-equipped to deal with political issues that affect families and children. Voters also feel uncomfortable with mothers of young children running for office, thought their antipathy is not as strong as it is toward childless women. Read my article detailing the findings of this study here.