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You are here Research > Gender > Quotas and Female Representation in South Korean Municipal Councils

Quotas and Female Representation in South Korean Municipal Councils


  • Researchers:
    • Martina Zanella and Jay Euijung Lee

  • Partners:

  • Location:
    • South Korea

  • Sample:
    • 226 Municipal Councils

  • Timeline:
    • 1995-2018

  • Theme:
    • Quotas and Female Representation

  • Description:
    • Although gender quotas in politics are one of the most common affirmative action policies worldwide, their merits remain an object of debate. Whether quotas turn out to be effective depends on the reasons behind the under-representation of women and whether the quota design creates the ``right'' incentives. In this paper, we contribute to the discussion on the optimal design of quotas by studying how highly male-dominated political parties react to the introduction of gender quotas in municipal council elections in South Korea – a country characterized by conservative gender roles where quotas are most needed but also face a higher risk of being ineffective. South Korea provides a particularly apt setting for several reasons:

      (i) we can exploit the discontinuity in the intensity of the quota's effect at given cut-offs of council size;

      (ii) gender quotas were implemented in only one of two independent election arms, leaving space for adjustment in the other arm,

      (iii) we can observe parties over fifteen years and compare immediate vs. follow-up responses.

      We find that political parties initially counteract the quota by putting forth fewer female candidates in the unaffected arm. However, this pattern gradually reverses over time. The evidence is consistent with parties initially selecting a suboptimally low number of women due to biased beliefs regarding their ability, but slowly revising their beliefs after exposure to competent women. This paper shows that affirmative action policies can still be effective despite initial backlashes, as long as they are designed appropriately -- in such a way as to create incentives for parties to select qualified women and make sure that these women get elected, opening the possibility for learning to take place.