US counties with more civic engagement tend to have more women on local business boards

The research summary is a brief overview of interesting scholarly work.

The big idea

According to our new peer-reviewed study, U.S. counties where people are more likely to vote and engage in business and social associations tend to have more women on local business boards. Additionally, we found that women from these communities are more likely to be appointed as chairs of influential board committees.

To reach these conclusions, we studied nearly 3,000 publicly traded US companies, representing more than 90% of the stock market. For each company, we collected financial data from 2000 to 2018 on company size, growth, risk and performance, as well as details on the composition of their board of directors, such as their size and the percentage of women.


Our data showed that while the overall share of women on corporate boards is very low, there is considerable variation across the United States. In 2018, a quarter of the companies in our database did not have a single female board member, and just under 100 had at least as many women as men on boards.

Previous studies have suggested that regional policies or barriers could explain the differences. We hypothesized that a concept sociologists call “social capital” might be a factor. Broadly speaking, social capital refers to how members of a society work together to achieve common goals, which in turn can build trust, improve local governance, and solve social problems such as poverty.

So, for each company in our database, we also identified the US county in which it is headquartered. Then, for each county, we collected data on population growth, percentage of women in the labor force, median household income and age, and religiosity and average level of education of local residents.

To measure social capital, we collected county-level data on voter turnout, U.S. Census response rates, and a gauge of the number of residents likely to be members of nonprofit and social organizations such as churches, professional associations and even bowling teams. Counties with higher levels of participation and membership had higher social capital scores.

Consistent with our predictions, we found that companies located in counties with more social capital also tended to have more women on boards. Additionally, companies in counties that rank in the top 20% by social capital were 1.5 times more likely to have at least one woman on their board of directors than those in the bottom fifth.


We also found that companies in high-capital counties were more likely to put women in charge of key decision-making committees, such as those overseeing audits, compensation, and board and executive appointments.


why is it important

Women’s participation in labor markets has grown phenomenally in the 20th century.

In the United States, for example, the percentage of women in the labor force increased from 20% at the beginning of the century to more than 60% towards the end. It’s a little lower today.

At the same time, women have seen increasing representation on corporate boards, from virtually none in the early 1900s to around 17% in 2018, according to our data. Yet there is clearly a long way to go to achieve gender parity on corporate boards – a key pillar of power and influence in America.

While some countries – and US states – have introduced gender diversity goals or quotas to increase the share of women on corporate boards, our results suggest that there may be other ways to achieve this. same result. That is, policymakers and others interested in putting more women on corporate boards might consider focusing some of their efforts on encouraging greater civic participation at the local level.

What is not yet known

Social capital helps explain some of the variation in the share of women on boards, but there are still many researchers who don’t know why one company has more women than another – within of a county, for example.

Additionally, further research could be conducted on social capital and its impact on other corporate governance mechanisms, such as CEO compensation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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