Do Female Presidents or Prime Ministers Make Any Difference?

do female presidents or prime ministers make any difference?

The United Kingdom is going to be led by a female Prime Minister in the near future, as the only two candidates left competing for the post in the Conservative Party leadership contest are now both women–Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.

Meanwhile in the USA, Hilary Clinton stands a strong chance of becoming the next President

Angela Merkel has led Germany over many years. Ulster Unionist Arlene Foster is the first woman to be First Minister in Northern Ireland while the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon is first Minister for Scotland.

The idea that the West appears to be gradually being taken over by women (according to the press) raises the question of whether female leadership results in any noticeable difference in the way we are governed.

A study examining all the countries involved in international conflicts around the world over the last 50 years found that the more women were involved in the leadership of a society, the less militarily aggressive that society was and the lower the probability of violent conflict with other countries.

The researchers, Mary Caprioli and Mark Boyer, argue that their study, in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, is strong evidence for the proposition that, generally, women work for peace and men wage war.

Consensual Approach

Women are more likely to use a collective or consensual approach to problem-solving rather than focusing on the unilateral imposition of solutions.

Psychologically, at quite a profound level, the authors suggest, men tend to engage in power struggles for personal gain, whereas women tend to attempt to minimize power differences, to share resources and to treat others equally.

Yet despite these advantages of female leadership, Caprioli and Boyer found only 24 countries around the world, by the time the study had been completed in 2001, had placed a female leader in office since 1900.

The study entitled, “Gender, violence and international crisis,” found only 16.6 per cent of these countries led by a woman were involved in international crises at any point during the period of female leadership and none of these female leaders initiated the crises.

The researchers, who at the time of publishing their study were at the department of political science, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and the Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, used political equality, measured as the percentage of women in parliament, as a measure of gender equality within society.

Put simply, their finding is that as the percentage of women in the legislature of a country increases, the less severe is the violence between countries.

Indeed, if the percentage of women in the legislature increases by five per cent, a state is nearly five times less likely to use violence internationally. In terms of the current warlike position of the USA compared with more pacifist Europe, it is interesting to note that the US had far fewer women in its legislature compared with most European countries .

For the US, the figure was just over 14 per cent compared with Sweden at 42 per cent at the time this study was published, which was 2001.

Indeed, Scandinavian countries generally take the top six consecutive spots in the world league table for highest female representation in parliament – followed by Germany with 32 per cent, at the time the study was published.

The UK, which has arguably been more aggressive in recent conflicts than the rest of Europe, is down at 17.9 per cent, when the study was published.

One theory behind this, argue Caprioli and Boyer, is that competition, violence, intransigence and territoriality are all associated with a male approach to international relations. Women, on the other hand, are less likely to see crisis negotiation as a competition or to advocate the use of violence.

That said, female leaders are often perceived to be just as aggressive as men, Caprioli, now associate professor of political science and director of international studies program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and  Boyer, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut, argue in their study.

Hawks vs. Doves

Leaders of recent years such as Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Indira Ghandi and Golda Meir were seen as hawks rather than doves, and all were caught up in violent conflicts.

But perhaps female leaders must also contend with negative perceptions from male opponents.

For example, gender was a factor in the events and resolution of the 1971 Indo–Pakistan war in which Indira Ghandi had a key role.

Caprioli and Boyer remind us that President Yahya Khan of Pakistan stated that he would have reacted less violently and been less rigid as the leader of Pakistan in the conflict with India if a male had headed the Indian government.

Indeed, President Khan was quoted as saying:

If that woman [Indira Gandhi] thinks she is going to cow me down, I refuse to take it.

So the behavior of male leaders when faced with a female opponent becomes a factor – a sense of macho pride which makes them unwilling to ‘lose’ to a woman, lest their masculinity be questioned.

Do Female Presidents or Prime Ministers Make Any Difference?

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen are regular contributors to Psych Central Professional. Dr. Rajendra Persaud, also known as Raj Persaud, is a leading consultant psychiatrist, broadcaster and author of popular books about psychiatry. He is well known for raising public awareness of psychiatric and mental health issues in the general media. He has published five popular books and has received numerous awards. The Times recently placed him as one of the Top Twenty Mental Health Gurus in the world.

Dr. Peter Bruggen was part of the UK Royal College of Psychiatrist's Podcast Editor Team, with Dr. Persaud. From 1969 to 1994 he was a consultant psychiatrist at Hill End Adolescent Unit, St Albans. He was also a consultant psychiatrist from 1969-90 at the Tavistock Clinic. His work has featured family therapy at the death bed, working with families in the community rather than admitting adolescents to hospital, and staff relationships. Dr. Bruggen has also written three books, including Surviving Adolescence and Helping Families (both with Charles O'Brien), and Who Cares? True Stories of the NHS Reforms, for which he conducted face-to-face interviews with one-hundred people.


APA Reference
Dr. Peter Bruggen, D. (2019). Do Female Presidents or Prime Ministers Make Any Difference?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Sep 2019
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