Modern Family: How Women Candidates Can Talk About Politics, Parenting, and Their Personal Lives

Women candidates and elected officials are often asked about their family lives: “Are you married? Who’s taking care of your kids? As a single parent how would you manage your job as an elected official and your role as a parent? How can you relate to families if you don’t have kids?”

Families in America, regardless of race, have evolved since the 1960s when two-parent households were the norm, most adults were married, and less than a quarter of married women with children worked outside the home. Today, babies are nearly as likely to be born to women who are single or unmarried with a partner as they are to be born to married parents. More women with young children are working than ever before and women’s labor force participation rates rise as their children grow older.

Our Six Key Findings

  1.  Voters express concern about the ability of women candidates and elected officials to balance the competing priorities of their families and their constituents. Further, voters worry about the effect of running for office on the candidate’s children, on the candidate as a person, and on the job she or he will do in office.
  2.  It is important for women candidates—no matter their family situation—to talk to voters about their personal lives. When questions arise about a woman’s family life and her ability to manage her personal life and professional responsibilities, she must respond. If voters’ doubts and concerns go unaddressed it negatively impacts the candidate’s perceived likability and effectiveness.
  3.  While men candidates are able to recover from critiques about their abilities to manage family and public office, the same is not true for all women candidates. Some women candidates do not gain back all the ground they lose after critiques.
  4.  It is more challenging to overcome critiques for a woman candidate or elected official who has young children, whether she is married or single. The age of the child or children matters a great deal. Voters perceive women with infants, young children, school-age children, and middle school or older children differently, and each scenario presents its own challenges. In general, having younger children is more challenging for voters to accept than having older children.
  5.  Voters will raise questions about a candidate’s role as a mother as part of campaign discussions. They recognize a double standard for moms, who will get the most questions, but actively participate in it and are conscious of doing so.
  6.  Some voters also worry that a candidate or elected official who has never married and does not have children will not be able to truly understand the concerns of families.
“We don’t make any males running for office explain what’s happening with their children.”