Here’s how we did our research
For our book “Race, Gender, and Political Representation,” we compared bills sponsored by legislators in 15 different state legislatures in two separate years — 1997 and 2005 — to examine how the combination of race and gender shaped which issues legislators chose to champion. We selected state legislatures to maximize variation in race, gender, and party composition. Unfortunately, there were too few Asian and Native American representatives to allow for comparison, so our analysis focused on comparing six groups: White men, White women, Black men, Black women, Latinos, and Latinas.
We coded all the bills introduced in all 15 states in each year by general subject matter for statistical analysis. We also looked in depth at bills introduced by legislators in similar, majority-minority districts in three of the states to better understand how the content of bills serving similar constituencies might differ by the representative’s group.
In keeping with prior research, we found that out of all legislators, women are most likely to sponsor bills addressing “women’s interests,” Black legislators are most likely to sponsor bills addressing “Black interests,” and Latinx legislators are most likely to sponsor bills addressing “Latinx interests.” However, when we look at how race and gender intersect, we see important differences.
Women of color are the most likely to address the needs of multiple marginalized groups with their legislative portfolios, but Latinas and Black women approach such issues somewhat differently. Latinas are more likely to introduce separate pieces of legislation — some bills addressing women’s issues and some addressing racial/ethnic issues — while Black women are more likely to introduce bills targeted at the way different types of disadvantage intersect, especially for low-income communities of color. Regardless of approach, we find that women of color are distinctly attuned to the needs of marginalized communities.
Black women are most attuned to the needs of poor communities
Compared to everyone else in the legislatures, Black women did the lion’s share of the work in proposing legislation that addresses poverty or social welfare. Approximately 31 percent of all Democratic legislators in our sample sponsored at least one poverty or welfare bill. Black women were by far the most active, followed by Black men and Latinas. Only 20 percent of Republicans introduced poverty or welfare bills overall. Though few in number, Republican legislators of color were much more active on these issues, with Latinas the most active.
Black women were also more likely to tailor their legislation to the economic challenges facing particular groups. For example, Black women introduced bills focused on single mothers and caregiving grandparents, as well as bills that sought to extend benefits to people with criminal records or without citizenship status.
All this was true no matter what kinds of districts elected these representatives of color. Black women introduced the most poverty and welfare legislation whether they came from districts that were mostly rich or poor, majority minority or majority White.
Women of color take restorative approaches to criminal justice