There was a lot said at the end of last year about the number of women in Parliament and their experiences. Just 22% of our MPs are women, so clearly gender equality in Parliament is a long way off, but why does this matter?
It matters if you believe there is a difference between the sexes. The good news is that you no longer have to believe it – I can prove it.
I have looked (or rather, my computer has looked) at all speeches made in the Commons since 2010 to see whether there are any differences between the issues that women talk about and those that men talk about.
The short answer is there are. Not only are there differences in the specific topics that women and men talk about, but there are also differences in the types of topics that women and men talk about.
The image at of the top of the page shows those topics that women in Parliament speak about more than twice as much as men – and vice versa. The size of the bars shows the number of speeches made on a given topic as a proportion of all speeches, which allows for a fair comparison given the overall gender imbalance.
The picture is fascinating – it shows that women collectively devote a much higher proportion of their speeches to debating living standards, health and social care, welfare reform and housing benefit. Men, on the other hand, devote far more of their time to debating parliamentary procedural issues like voting systems and fixed-term parliaments – and they seem obsessed with Europe. Interestingly, men also talk about Wales much more than women – which is odd because the gender balance of Welsh MPs is roughly the same as that of Parliament as a whole, so I can’t think of a reason why Wales is on the list – I’d love to hear from you if you think you know the answer!
So, if you want your MP to spend more time debating living standards or health care, then vote for a woman. If, on the other hand, you want your MP to spend more time debating Wales and an EU referendum, then vote for a man!
Are you surprised? Then contribute to the debate by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page.
Want to look a bit deeper?
There are, of course, some significant areas of overlap between women and men – mostly around the big set piece events like debates following the budget. There are also a number of catch-all topics (like Points of Order) which feature high up the list for both women and men, but mask the true nature of what someone was actually talking about. I have therefore removed these topics from the data that follows. For completeness, the topics I have removed are … Business of the House, Topical Questions, Engagements, Finance Bill, Ways and Means – budget resolutions, “Statement” and Points of Order.
Let’s start at the top
The first analysis shows the top 20 topics for both women and men (there are some overlaps, so the chart shows 19 topics in total). There are some clear differences which we will explore in the next couple of sections, but there is also an oddity at the botom of the chart. We can see that women in Parliament appear to spend far more of their time debating Abu Qatada than men do. It is worth remembering that the Home Secretary is a woman and was personally involved in the Abu Qatada case. Could this therefore be a quirk of the fact that the Home Secretary happens to be a woman, rather than any evidence that women care more about Abu Qatada than men do? A quick pivot of the data shows that Theresa May spoke 191 times abou Abu Qatada – accounting for almost exactly 50% of all the speeches. This makes sense when we think about the nature of those debates – she was responding to questions about action that she had taken personally and so responded to each intervention herself. This is unusual in Parliament and distorts the data for the Abu Qatada debate.
In case there are similar issues with other topics, the next chart has government ministers removed from the data – and just to mix things up, I’ve sorted it by topic in order of importance to women, rather than men (the first chart was the other way round).
Again it is clear that there are areas of overlap, as well as areas of difference. Just below the middle of the chart, we can see some topics to which women devote a much larger proportion of their time than men. Similarly, there are a couple of bars that are much larger on the male side of the chart than on the female side. But still, there are a fair few bars that are roughly equal. We can remove them by looking at the ratio between the two percentages – the final chart shows only those topics where there is a ratio of at least 2:1 (in either direction). This gives us a very clear picture when we sort it according to the ratio between the two values. This is the chart we started with at the top of the page.
Finally, if you’re interested in what the total list looks like when sorted according to the ratio – it looks like this.