We assess the degree to which the policy preferences of female legislators explain the widely observed negative association between women’s political representation (known as “women in parliament,” or WIP) and corruption. While a broad literature suggests that WIP reduces corruption, there is little consensus on how. Some suggest that the effect is driven by women’s psychology—perhaps women are more prosocial or more risk-averse than men, and thus engage in less corruption. Others suggest that the effect is driven by policy preferences: because it serves the interest of their female constituents, women promote social spending, which in turn reduces corruption. We employ a mediation analysis that allows us to test the mediating effect of social spending, and to provide an upper bound for alternative explanations. Our results suggest that social spending explains as much as 69 percent of the effect of WIP on corruption, leaving as little as 31 percent for alternative explanations. These results are robust to concerns about spurious WIP effects, sample composition, and the potential for endogeneity in the link from either WIP or social spending to corruption. We conclude by implicating these findings in broader discussions about the beneficial effects of WIP for governance.

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