Does Social Class Matter for Substantive Representation? An Analysis of Women Legislators' Agenda Setting Behavior on the Economic Dimension

Paula Reppmann, Greifswald University


The relationship between women legislatorsโ€™ numerical presence and substantial work has been confirmed for women’s issues, especially on the socio-cultural dimension but lacks verification for economic concerns. The “politics of presence argument” suggests that descriptive representation of women in parliament leads to substantive representation where women legislators act in the interest of women. I conduct a study investigating which factors might shape substantive representation on the economic dimension. I argue that the selective representation of women’s heterogenous preferences causes decreased substantive representation for some sub-groups. This research critically examines whether women in lower social classes are substantively represented to the same degree as women in middle and upper social classes. My objective is to present a more nuanced picture of different explanations that might influence substantive representation in agenda setting while moving away from the assumption of homogenous preferences of all women. The main explanatory approaches are centered at societal level and include variables such as social class or voter turnout. Furthermore, I also look at party level to uncover whether women legislators follow the partyโ€™s agenda or stick to their own ideas. To account for variation over time and among units, the inquiry is set to include all parliamentary questions asked in the 16 German state parliaments. I look at agenda setting by women MPs according to the topics raised in parliamentary questions from 2006 to 2019. I will be able to show whether the heterogenous preferences of sub-groups of women according to social class are equally represented on the economic dimension. The findings also reveal which proposed explanation is the most powerful for selective substantive representation.