An Integrative Developmental Framework for Studying Gender Inequities in Politics

Isobel A. Heck, Radhika Santhanagopalan, Andrei Cimpian, Katherine D. Kinzler

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Gender inequities in politics persist around the world. Research in political science and social psychology underscores how gender gaps in politics are fueled by societal messages that politics is a masculine domain. Developmental psychology offers a complementary, yet underappreciated, perspective on how gender inequities in politics are created and maintained. At first glance, children and politics may seem unrelated, yet broad cultural ideas can set in remarkably early in life. As an analogy, consider the gender inequities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Although gender gaps in this domain were initially theorized to begin during the college years, developmental research subsequently revealed how the societal messages and norms to which young children are exposed form the foundation on which gender gaps later emerge. We propose that the benefits of a developmental theory-driven approach to understanding gender gaps in STEM can be productively harnessed to understand and counteract gender gaps in political leadership as well. In our target article, we identified five critical areas of inquiry as a novel theoretical framework for investigating the developmental roots of gendered political disparities. Here, we situate these areas of inquiry within a sociocultural framework and integrate insights from the thoughtful commentaries on our target article. We discuss how societal ideas are transmitted to children through everyday interactions that shape children’s developing psychological tendencies within a larger system of institutions. This integrative developmental framework provides unique and valuable insights across multiple levels of inquiry, which will further benefit from embracing intersectional and global perspectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-152
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Political leadership
  • STEM
  • developmental psychology
  • gender inequities
  • politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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