Are women making Congress more polite?

Lawmakers are less likely to interrupt each other when there are more women on committees

A new study shows lawmakers are less likely to interrupt each other when more women serve on committees. Above, from right, Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, Sylvia R. Garcia and Joe Neguse at a House Judiciary hearing on May 8. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Last November, a record-breaking number of women were elected to the House and Senate, resulting in the most diverse Congress in history: 25 percent of senators and 23 percent of representatives are women.

According to a new study by Pamela Ban, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, the influx of women could make a definitive difference in committee dynamics, a crucial step in the legislative process.

“We find that when you increase the number of women, when you increase the proportion of women on a committee, that helps to increase the amount of times that women will speak up,” Ban said in an interview last month on the podcast “P.S. You’re Interesting,” adding that increasing numbers of women also affects “instances such as number of interruptions made.”

After analyzing CQ committee hearing transcripts from 1995 to 2017, Ban determined that increasing the number of women on a committee positively affects the participation of majority-party women and women in senior positions.

The research also indicated that when more women are on a committee, both men and women are less likely to interrupt each other. Women are more likely to stick to topics introduced by other women, while men are more likely to change the subject.

Ban said the findings build on earlier research demonstrating differences in the way women legislate — often through a greater emphasis on consensus, serving constituents, and directing funds to their districts.

“When we introduce a woman on to this committee, we might see that there is going to be a difference in how the discussion flows, and the types of ideas,” Ban said.

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