Take (her) to the limit: what term limits can tell us about women’s successes in political office

15 April 2022, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


A ‘good government reform,’ 15 states adopted legislative rules in 1990s that cap the maximum years that representatives can serve in a particular body. While designed to strike a blow to entrenched systems of power and to open political office up to outsiders, research shows that term limits actually reduce the time that legislators spend on constituent service and decrease the number of bills they sponsor. But do term limits equally shape all legislators’ behavior? We focus on the gendered effects of term limits. Women in legislative bodies outperform men in legislative office. We use term limits to test the effect of candidate quality compared to voter expectations by examining the effect of term limits on men’s versus women’s legislative behavior for over 6000 legislators serving in term limited states. We find more evidence of women’s higher quality than of electoral effects.


term limits
state legislatures
gender and politics


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