Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Baldwin, Katharine


Both theory and policy experts have sought to understand how norms around women’s political participation may shift. This dissertation provides evidence that the engagement of women can be affected by social contexts at the micro-level. Through two randomized field experiments, I show that the social referents who are present during a discussion about women and gender culture in Tanzania have a significant impact, not only in how those topics are discussed, but also on the behavior of the subjects with regards to women’s political participation. Between these two experiments, I conducted over 400 total focus groups in both rural and urban Tanzania. The treatment in each varied the relationship of the people present in order to measure the effects of social context. In the first paper, I show evidence that norms are a connecting link between attitudes and behaviors. Those norms may be demonstrated by novel discussion of the topic, or a conversation with a previously silent majority. I look at the effect of such discussions within primary social groups, the most basic social units. I conducted a randomized field experiment in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to understand how attitudes and behaviors might change with exposure to the opinions of friends and family. I used 348 focus groups made up of either the subjects' friends, or their family members to test the heterogeneous effects of these groups. In this factorial design, half of the focus groups, in both family and peer conditions, discussed female representation and other gender norms in Tanzania. The other half discussed general questions of politics and culture in Tanzania. Via survey instrument and behavioral outcomes, I then measured their attitudes towards a number of gender norms using metrics common in the discipline. I found that while attitudes largely were progressive and unaffected by treatment, measures of behavior changed when respondents talked about these gender norms, particularly when they talked about those topics with friends. My research provides evidence that when a person observes that their existing attitudes match a newly revealed norm of their primary focus group, the cost of the behavior is reduced and the person is able to express their attitudes through behavior. The second paper explores patterns within the data to understand what social forces may be driving these effects. I build on the analysis of the first chapter and incorporate a rich data set collected during that experiment to explore possible explanations for the heterogeneous effects of the previous paper. I will show that even when the norms among family members and friends are similar to each other, the ways in which those norms are communicated, and the dynamics within that communication can cause heterogeneous effects between the two groups. The final paper in the dissertation considers how the presence of a white foreigner influences how women discuss gender issues in Tanzania. In this experiment, I varied the presence of a white, female researcher in 80 focus groups in rural Tanzania. This design allows me to estimate the average effects of the foreign researchers’ presence by comparing relative levels of engagement with the focus group questions given across the focus groups. I find that focus groups with a white researcher present had longer discussions, particularly on questions about gender and culture. These questions are ones in which the gender and foreignness of the researcher would be more salient. In some cases, these results suggest that data collected in the presence of a conspicuously foreign researcher might be more thorough than in the absence of such. However, the information may also be pandering to the perceived values of the researcher, making some types of data less reliable. In either case the project underlines the importance of considering the measurer, not just the measurement, especially on topics with evolving or sensitive norms such as gender.