British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Do Women Need Women Representatives?

Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs and Joni Lovenduski*


This article analyses the relationship between the representatives and the represented by comparing elite and mass attitudes to gender equality and women’s representation in Britain. In so doing, the authors take up arguments in the recent theoretical literature on representation that question the value of empirical research of Pitkin’s distinction between substantive and descriptive representation. They argue that if men and women have different attitudes at the mass level, which are reproduced amongst political elites, then the numerical under-representation of women may have negative implications for women’s substantive representation. The analysis is conducted on the British Election Study (BES) and the British Representation Study (BRS) series.

(Online publication December 11 2009)


* Campbell and Lovenduski: School of Politics and Sociology, Birkbeck College, University of London; and Childs: Department of Politics, University of Bristol (email: The authors are grateful to Pippa Norris for her continuing support of the British Representation Study and for her advice on its development, to Richard Topf for his help with the British Election Studies Information System (, and to Ron Johnston for his help with providing, and explaining how to use, certain statistical data. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editors of the British Journal of Political Science for comments on earlier versions.