A Virginia Tech-led study has found that government corruption is less prevalent in countries where there is a greater number of women in political leadership roles, both at national and local levels.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, was led by Sudipta Sarangi, professor and head of the Department of Economics, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science, and Chandan Kumar Jha, an assistant professor of finance at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. The two analyzed more than 125 randomly selected countries from around the world and nearly every continent. Among the countries included are all major democracies, the United States among them.

“This research is timely and underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles, and their representation in government,” Sarangi said. “It is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries, including the United States.”

Why? The likelihood of bribery is lower in regions with greater numbers of women leaders, especially in local-level politics in Europe. “Women policymakers are able to have an impact on corruption because they choose different policies from men. An extensive body of prior research shows women politicians choose policies that are more closely related to the welfare of women, children, and family,” Sudipta said.

Sudipta and Jha also looked at labor forces, clerical positions, and the corporate world, with decision-making positions such as the CEOs and other managerial positions. “The study finds that women’s presence in these occupations is not significantly associated with corruption, suggesting that it is the policymaking role through which women are able to have an impact on corruption,” Sarangi said.

The slide of more women being in government to less corruption in government is maintained in multiple countries, despite a number of other control variables, including economic, cultural, and institutional factors. The researchers note that corruption still may play a role in women’s efforts to seek public office, be it local or national: Fighting existing corruption might be a driver in their very bid for office.

This is, of course, not the first study to look at gender-corruption relationships. As well, the researchers warn that the study results do not indicate every woman as inherently less corrupt.

“The previous studies suffered from the critique that the relationship between women’s representation in government and corruption was not shown to be causal,” Sarangi added.

The study’s release comes amid a growing trend in political election local and national: More women are seeking office. According to a recent Washington Post story, some 78 women are on ballots for this November for seats in Congress or state governor. For now, women hold less than 25 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate, and only 19 percent of House of Representatives members are women, added Sarangi.

Policy implications of the study point toward the need for promoting gender equality in general and promoting the presence of women in politics in particular.

“Previous research has established that a greater presence of women in government is associated with better education and health outcomes,” Sarangi said. “It is well-known that corruption is bad for economic growth and well-being of people.”