What do we really know about those governing us?

June 14, 2024

In good supply of power : Figures from the dataset WhoGov indicate that there are more female ministers in democracies than autocracies. Jacob Nyrup argues better access to power for women suggests that democracy is a better solution than autocracy. That was until Jacob Nyrup was writing his doctoral thesis on autocracies. Updated dataset: Jacob Nyrup is continuously working to improve WhoGov, along with other researchers at UiO. They extracted data showing that there are far more female ministers in democracies than in autocracies.

With a new database researchers can for the first time guess what government members from around the world are up to. It turns out, among other things, that women have far better access to positions of power in democratic countries than dictatorships.

In good supply of power : Figures from the dataset WhoGov indicate that there are more female ministers in democracies than autocracies. Jacob Nyrup argues better access to power for women suggests that democracy is a better solution than autocracy. Photo: Javad Parsa / NTB

This article is translated from Norwegian to English by UiOGPT

Since 1966, the CIA has been collecting information on every government member around the world. What has eventually become an impressive registry of personal data, education, and background was originally intended for American diplomats and politicians who needed briefing before important meetings. The database was not publicly available.

That was until Jacob Nyrup was writing his doctoral thesis on autocracies.

Based on a tip from his advisor, the political science PhD candidate had an idea: Perhaps these extensive lists from the CIA could be used for something more? Nyrup began to tidy up the information, systematize and reorganize. Suddenly, it became possible for both him and other researchers to easily extract specific data, and effectively compare different parameters: the WhoGov dataset was born.

“WhoGov is the largest database on ministers and governments that exists in political science right now,” says Nyrup.

Updated dataset: Jacob Nyrup is continuously working to improve WhoGov, along with other researchers at UiO. Over the summer, WhoGov will be updated with new figures, including new variables on social background, education, and profession. Photo: Erik Engblad / UiO

Basic information on ministers

WhoGov contains biographical information on government members from the period 1966-2021 in all countries with more than 400,000 inhabitants. In total, WhoGov has data on 56,063 government members in 177 countries.

The same year the dataset was published, Nyrup and Stuart Bramwell at the University of London, won an award for the innovation. Today, Jacob Nyrup is an associate professor at the Institute of Political Science (ISV). Along with his colleagues at the University of Oslo, he is fully engaged in expanding the database. Over the summer, WhoGov will receive updated figures, including new variables on social background, education, and profession.

Researchers have already used WhoGov to reveal that Norwegian ministers are among the least educated in the world.

“I think it is important to consider this type of basic information when we look for the overarching patterns among the elites who govern us.”

False gender equality

Together with Hikaru Yamagashi from Stanford University, Jacob Nyrup has just published findings from a study based on WhoGov. They extracted data showing that there are far more female ministers in democracies than in autocracies.

The number of female ministers is due to democratic mechanisms, according to Nyrup. This contrasts with what some research argues – namely that autocracies actually do quite well when it comes to equality.

“This is often repeated in Western media, where a number of dictatorships such as Nicaragua and Rwanda are often highlighted as pioneer countries,” says the political scientist.

The claims have frustrated Nyrup.

“There has been some research on parliaments and who sits in legislative assemblies in dictatorships. But the problem is that members in autocratic parliaments usually have very little real power,” he says.

Nyrup refers to countries like Rwanda and Uganda, where the parliament has a surprisingly high female representation. He believes that the women in these positions are largely placed there to send a message that the countries are forward-thinking and progressive.

“But in reality, the parliament does not make the decisions. The power lies with the governments and the ministers. That's why it’s more important to examine and compare them.”

Gloomy outlook for the democracy

Another key point of the study, according to Jacob Nyrup, is the ominous development for democracy worldwide. Updated reports point to a downward democratic trend, with countries such as Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela becoming explicitly more autocratic in recent years.

The storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, is an example of a growing mistrust toward elected politicians and democratic norms within well-established democracies like the USA, according to the political scientist.

“It seems as if an increasing number of voters feel that democracy does not live up to expectations, and therefore many are orienting themselves toward other more authoritarian forms of governance in hopes of improvement,” says Nyrup.

It is precisely in this context that Nyrup believes the data from WhoGov can tell us something important about those who govern us.

“For example, that women have better access to positions of power in democracies.”

Women as an Advantage in Politics

Carl Henrik Knutsen, Professor at ISV, argues that more women in political power positions lead to higher economic growth in society. In turn, Francesca Refsum Jensenius, Professor at the same institute, has found that inexperienced female politicians are less corrupt than men, even though the gender difference disappears among more experienced politicians.

“As we write in the article, it's no longer unusual to see women in politics, fortunately. But I don't think it's something we should take for granted,” says Nyrup.

He emphasizes that the research literature indicates a significant societal advantage with female representation in politics.

“And since women have better access to these positions of power in democracies than in autocracies, the figures from WhoGov show that this is one of many reasons why democracy is actually a better solution in the long term.”.

Read: Podcast: The inner life of the government: Marked by collegiality - University of Oslo (uio.no)

The source of this news is from University of Oslo

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