Ethnic Diversity, Gender, and National Leaders

Katherine W. Phillips, Nicholas A Pearce, Susan E Perkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


National leaders have the ultimate responsibility to balance the needs of a diverse set of constituents in society while using their country’s unique set of resources to grow the economy and to gain comparative advantages. Diversity is known to be an extremely challenging factor to reconcile nationally and is negatively associated with GDP growth—in fact, high levels of ethnic diversity are associated with a 2 percent decline in GDP growth. In most countries throughout modern history, the role of the national leader has been played by men. Women historically have had limited opportunities to lead their countries and in many early cases, only by the failing of their husband’s health, or death, do they ascend to power. However, in the last decade, more women have been elected to lead their countries such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the post-war torn Republic of Liberia, Angela Merkel who entered politics after the reunification of the Federal Republic of Germany, and most recently, Park Geun-hye in the Republic of Korea under the political platform of harmonious unification with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. With the rise in female national leaders, it begs the question of whether there are some conditions in which women might be more effective leaders than their male counterparts. This study examines the intersection of ethnic diversity, gender and leadership to explore the effectiveness of male versus female leadership in highly diverse societies, as compared to those that are ethnically more homogeneous. We examine a unique dataset of 5,709 observations of national leaders in 139 nations over more than five decades. We find that in more ethnically diverse nations, the presence of a female national leader is correlated with a 6.9 percent increase in GDP growth in comparison to having a male leader. We offer some plausible rationale for these patterns and discuss the policy implications of our findings.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of International Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


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