An attentional theory of issue-carrying capacity
A plethora of research in cognitive and behavioral psychology showed that there are significant differences in the way men and women process political and social information. It has been widely accepted that women show more social concern for and tend to be more reactive to the problems in their social environments. The potential implications of these distinct cognitive styles, however, have received scant academic attention in political science research. In particular, we have scant knowledge of the extent to which differing cognitive styles affect the scope of problem identification and prioritization. Integrating insights from both political behavior and psychology research, this dissertation argues that women's lower cognitive threshold of urgency for societal issues should have important political implications. More specifically, argue that, compared with their male counterparts, female decision makers should attend to a wider variety of societal issues facing their country. My empirical strategy is two-fold. First, with over 930,000 respondents over the past 75 years in the US, I undertake the most comprehensive test of gender differences in issue attention and show that such differences are much stronger than previously thought and invariant across time. Second, utilizing the European Election Study surveys conducted in 12 European countries (N=13,549), 94 nationally representative surveys conducted between 1960 and 2015 in the US (N=110,796), and original datasets of legislative speeches from Turkey, I test the argument that women differ from men in the scope of societal issues with which they are involved and find strong empirical evidence for it. Results show that women do indeed attend to a broader range of issues when asked about the most important problems facing their country and speak about a wider range of issues in legislatures, a finding that is insensitive to various alternative model specifications and robustness tests.
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