Do Electoral Quotas Work after They Are Withdrawn? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in India

Quotas have continuing positive effects on women’s political representation at least one cycle after they are withdrawn.  


Electoral quotas, which are used in more than 100 countries around the world, are proven to increase the representation of women in elected government. On average, representation of women legislators is 22% among countries with any type of gender quota, compared to 13% in countries without a quota (Pande and Ford, 2011). Quotas overcome social norms by reserving seats for women in public office, which in turn has been shown to change people’s expectations for who can lead.  Research has shown that quotas, in a relatively short time, transform people’s acceptance of female leaders, increases female participation, and raises responsiveness to female policy concerns. However, we do not know how lasting these changes are long term. If quotas were to be removed, would women still win elected office in similar proportions? India's quotas for local legislators (called gam panchayat members in rural areas, and corporators or councilors in urban areas) are randomly assigned, and change from one election to the next.  This creates natural experiments to examine the effects of quotas after they are withdrawn.  Do people continue to elect women after quotas are lifted?


In Mumbai, where one-third of seats were reserved for women in 1997, women candidates had greater chances of running and winning in 2002 after the quotas had been removed.

  • Women were five times more likely to win public office when the seat was reserved for a woman in a previous election, compared with seats that were not reserved for women. Since incumbents are generally disadvantaged in India, incumbency advantage does not explain these results.
  • In the 2002 election, women won 22% of the seats that were previously reserved for and held by women. Of seats not previously reserved, only 4% of women were elected.
  • Women were more than twice as likely to run for public office in wards that had previously had quotas for women, compared with wards that did not have quotas – 43% of wards with previous reservations had at least one competitive woman running for office, compared with 14% of wards with no previous reservations.

In short, quotas have continuing positive effects on women’s political representation even one cycle after the quotas are withdrawn.


This study uses data from local elections in Mumbai to determine the impact of reservations for women’s seats in 1997 on electoral outcomes in 2002. One-third of the local wards were reserved for women through randomized, stratified, and independent draws in 1997 and 2002.  Data was collected from the Maharashtra State Election Commission and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for the 1997 and 2002 elections. Official result sheets for each of Mumbai’s electoral wards, Maharashtra gazette notifications of ward boundaries, reservation status for various seats and candidate lists, and internal documents of the Election Office were utilized. For each ward, the researcher coded the names, sex, party, incumbency status, and vote tallies for every candidate in the 1997 and 2002 elections. This yielded 2,725 records for 1997 and 2,065 records for 2002.

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