There was a lot of fuss yesterday following Helen Goodman’s claim that she would be supporting Yvette Cooper for Labour leader, because Cooper had children (‘As a working mum, she understands the pressures on modern family life’), which was widely interpreted as a dig at Liz Kendall (who doesn’t have children). Leave aside whether such views are right or not; what do the voters think?
Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs and I recently looked into this, with an (as yet unpublished) paper on parenthood and politicians in the UK. And basically, children are an electoral advantage – and it would appear that British politicians know that.
We found clear evidence that politicians with children tended to receive higher evaluations than those without. We also found that most MPs who are parents make reference to their children on their websites, so we suspect they are intuitively aware of the advantage that this gives them. But the effects are not uniform. In particular, we found that women politicians without children are punished more for their lack children than male politicians in a similar position. The effect of this is not massive, but it is consistent, and could matter in close electoral races.