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Are women less likely to run for political office than men because they don't take part in enough organized sports and thus don't care about winning? That's one of the more provocative ideas in a new American study that tries to figure out why, according to survey findings, young women don't tend to run for office.

The study, Girls Just Wanna Not Run: The Gender Gap in Young Americans' Political Ambition, identifies five main factors for the ongoing disparity between the number of men and women who enter politics — a disparity that is no less real in Canada than it is in the U.S.

Aside from "Young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care about winning," the other four identified factors are:

  • Boys are more likely than girls to have been socialized by their parents to think about a career in politics;
  • Young women tend to be exposed “to less political information and discussion” than are young men;
  • Young women generally get less encouragement to run for office than young men do;
  • And young women consequently are less likely to think they will be qualified to run for office, “even in the not-so-near future.”

The result, in the U.S. at least, is men are more than twice as likely as woman to have thought about running for office, "whereas women were 20 percentage points more likely than men never to have considered it" at all.

The study's authors are convinced that one way to change things is to get more girls involved in politics is to " to immerse themselves in competitive environments, such as organized sports, [which] can go a long way in reinforcing the competitive spirit associated with interest in a future candidacy."

In Canada — where political parties still struggle to find women to run for office, when they try at all — more boys than girls take part in organized sports, according to Statistics Canada, although the gap is closing because fewer boys are joining teams while the number of girls is staying steady.

Federally-speaking, the NDP is the party that had the closest thing to gender parity in the 2011 general election, when 40 per cent of the party's candidates were women. The one time in history of the country that an elected federal caucus achieved gender parity was in 1993, when half the Progressive Conservative Party was female. Of course, the party only had two members.

Overall, the study says that "encouraging parents, family members, teachers, and coaches to urge young women to think about a political career can mitigate the gender gap." The study does not address the idea that it might also be a good idea for parents, family members, teachers and coaches to discourage overly competitive boys who develop narrow-minded ideologies and try to win at all costs from entering politics at all.

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