Working Parents Represent

Working Parents Represent: How Parenthood Influences the Legislative Agenda of Members of Congress

with Lisa A. Bryant

Under Contract with New York University Press

Research has found that female members of Congress introduce legislation often considered to address “women’s issues” - issues such as equality in the workplace including sexual harassment and the wage gap, women’s healthcare issues including reproductive rights and insurance coverages and social issues such as domestic violence at rates higher than men.  Were it not for women in Congress, many of these issues may never be part of the public discourse or legislative agenda. However, many of these issues are not necessarily on the minds of all women but rather relate to their role as mothers. Our work finds in particular that women with young children are more likely to sponsor children and family-centered bills than women with adult children or without children. We also further explore the question of parenthood as a descriptive characteristic by expanding our study to include data on male members of Congress, as well as more detailed examination of bill content. We find that parental identity works differently for men and women, where mothers of young children sponsor more child and family legislation per session than mothers of adult children, women with no children, and all men, though there is some slight variation within men. This analysis of fathers allows for a stronger test of the independent effect of parenthood as a descriptive characteristic. In turn, this study broadens our understanding of how legislators prioritize and approach policy issues, which ultimately impact their citizenry. Examination of bill content also allow us to understand if parents are more likely to sponsor bills that are use language that is more expansive or restrictive in terms of services and protections for children and families, or if this is largely a function of ideology.