Understanding the Developmental Roots of Gender Gaps in Politics

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Globally, women are underrepresented in politics. We propose developmental psychology offers an important, yet underused, theoretical lens for understanding and counteracting the gender gap in political leadership. In making this proposal, we harness insight from research on women’s underrepresentation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), where developmental psychology has revealed that cultural beliefs and attitudes about STEM are transmitted early in life and begin undermining girls’ interest and confidence in STEM long before adulthood. Leveraging developmental research from STEM as inspiration, we identify five areas of inquiry that are critical to a developmentally informed perspective on the origins of the gender gap in politics. Although studying children to understand political inequities among adults may be playing the “long game,” we argue this will be a necessary step to advance gender equity in political leadership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-71
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Developmental psychology
  • STEM
  • gender
  • political leadership
  • politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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