Founding Narratives and Men’s Political Ambition: Experimental Evidence from US Civics Lessons

Amanda Clayton, Diana O'Brien, Jennifer Piscopo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One oft-cited reason for women’s political underrepresentation is that women express less political ambition than men. We reframe the puzzle of women’s ambition deficit, asking why men have an ambition surplus. Drawing on the concept of symbolic representation, we theorize that political symbols convey to men their capacity for exceptional political leadership. We test our expectations with a US-based survey experiment in which respondents watch one of three ‘two-minute civics lessons’. Men who watched a video featuring the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers reported significantly more political ambition than men assigned to the control group. Additional studies indicate that the effects are specific to the Founding Fathers (as compared to early American statesmen). Men are also more likely than women to identify the Founding Fathers as inspiring figures and to feel pride when considering them. Our findings suggest how history is told contributes to men’s persistent political overrepresentation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-151
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
Early online date26 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

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