Research and Development: Why do Women Police Reduce Corruption Perceptions?

  • Bret Barrowman, Lacey Darling

In honor of International Women’s Day we are debuting the series with an exciting new study on stereotypes about women and perceptions of police corruption: 

Barnes, Tiffany D., Emily Beaulieu, and Gregory W. Saxton. 2018. “Restoring Trust in the Police: Why Female Officers Reduce Suspicions of Corruption.” Governance 31 (1):143–61.

What’s the argument?

A lot of studies show that higher numbers of women in government tend to be associated with reduced perceptions of corruption, but it’s not clear why. The authors identify and test three distinct gender stereotypes that might lead people to believe women are less corrupt:

How do they do this?

They designed an experiment to test these gender stereotypes. They surveyed 1,105 individuals using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a platform that allows individuals to complete menial tasks (like completing a survey) for a small fee. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups:

All respondents were then asked to rate their expectations of effectiveness of the strategy to hire more women in traffic enforcement, with the response options of; “very successful,” “somewhat successful,” “not too successful,” and “not at all successful.” Since respondents were randomly assigned to the experimental groups, any differences in responses between groups is due to the impact of the various stereotypes activated through messaging.

What was the conclusion?

Women are indeed perceived as more effective in combating corruption and that this perception increases when the stereotypes about women as political outsiders and risk-averse are activated in a survey prompt.

How seriously should I take this?

The experiment suggests links between particular gender stereotypes and corruption perceptions, but this study alone likely is not conclusive. There is some evidence that research with MTurk samples confirm the results of other surveys and experiments, but this sample probably does not represent the population of any one country.

Gender stereotypes are based on culture, politics, societal norms, religion, and other region-specific variables. Therefore, there may be additional gender stereotypes or other factors that the authors did not test that lead people to associate women with lower police corruption. Other things to consider: gender-based double standards for recruitment, promotion, and accountability.

Finally, this experiment tests the effects of stereotypes on the perception of corruption but says nothing about whether women in police forces actually reduce corruption.  

So now what? Take Homes for Programming                                                        

Homework: For Further Reading

Countries with representation of women in parliament experience lower corruption.

The women’s representation-corruption link is highest in democracies because a) women are more risk averse on average and b) voters hold women to a higher standard.

Corruption is high where women’s representation is low because male-dominated corruption networks influence political parties’ candidate selection.

Research and Development is a semi-regular feature on Democracy Speaks that highlights cutting edge, peer-reviewed research that is particularly relevant for Democracy and Governance (D&G) practitioners.
Up ArrowTop