Sustainability 2019, 11, 4728; doi:10.3390/su11174728 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Investigating the Link between Transport
Sustainability and the Representation of Women in
Swedish Local Committees
Lena Winslott Hiselius
*, Annica Kronsell
, Christian Dymén
and Lena Smidfelt Rosqvist
Department of Technology and Society, Lund University, 22100 Lund, Sweden
School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, 40032 Gothenburg, Sweden
Trivector Traffic, 40653 Stockholm, Sweden
Trivector Traffic, 22100 Lund, Sweden
* Correspondence: Lena.Hiselius@tft.lth.se
Received: 27 May 2019; Accepted: 26 August 2019; Published: 29 August 2019
Abstract: There are large discrepancies in the transport sector along gender lines in travel patterns
and means of transportation used, but also in attitudes and norms among citizens, planners and
decision-makers, with women generally more positive towards measures involving the lowering
CO2 emissions. At the same time, the number of women involved in transport-related decisions is
low. This is a problem for gender equality but possibly also for sustainability. A careful review of
previous studies indicated a lack of analyses on the subject based on quantitative data at the local
level. We investigated a possible link between women’s presence in local policymaking and more
sustainable transport policies, and whether it is possible to capture such an effect. The main
contribution of this paper is a methodological approach in which, besides generating unique data
on representation in municipalities (confirming men’s dominance, specifically in transport
policymaking), possibilities for quantitatively measuring gender and the level of sustainability in
transport planning are discussed and tested. Challenges in collecting relevant data and analyzing
possible covariances in the data set are discussed and presented as well as suggestions for further
investigations into the possible link between gender and sustainable transport performance.
Keywords: gender; mobility; passenger transport; female representation; critical mass
emissions are decreasing in the EU, but greenhouse gas emissions from transport
have increased in recent years. Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s total greenhouse
gas emissions, and the transport sector has not seen the same gradual decline as others . Emissions
started to decrease in 2007 but then increased (ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport-en). According
to the Swedish Transport Administration , the Swedish transport sector contributes significantly
to this problem, and the Swedish Parliament recently adopted (15 June 2017) a climate act stipulating
that emissions from the transport sector must fall by 70% by 2030, with 2010 as the base year . Most
of these emissions are from passenger transport generated by individual travel.
To tackle climate emissions, there is a need to promote sustainable transport, different
infrastructure planning and investments, and new technical solutions [4–6] and through changed
transport behavior [7–9]. These changes are necessary for an environmentally sustainable transport
sector. There is also a need to support measures supporting less and more efficient freight transports
Sustainability is associated with an ecosystem view, but a holistic perspective on transport
planning, social, economic and governance systems also needs to be applied, and the time horizon
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should include the long-term and future generations for intergenerational equity. Cornet and
Gudmundsson , suggested that a key feature of sustainable transport planning is the
development of sustainable solutions accepted by a majority of the population.
Many factors affect the overall performance of the transport sector, not least the planning and
supply of infrastructure [12–14]. Decisions on targets and intentions for planning that are in regards
to or affect the transport system are made on a comprehensive, as well as local, level. The planning
process is characterized by a multitude of actors and the interactions between them, both in Sweden
 and in other countries [16–18].
Efforts to include women in transport planning by recognizing their conditions, values and
preferences seems a logical step to counter this. We suggest that gender equality may be relevant to
increasing energy efficiency in the transport sector, as there are large discrepancies in the sector along
the lines of gender in travel patterns and choice of transportation means, as well as in attitudes and
norms among citizens, planners and decision-makers [19–23].
Following this line of literature and assuming that women’s presence in policymaking also
means that their norms, attitudes and travel behavior could influence policy, gender-equal
representation in transport-related decision-making has significant potential to increase the level of
sustainability in transport planning by increasing energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.
Based on the results of, for example, Kronsell et al. , we started from the hypothesis that, if women
were well-represented in policymaking on transport issues, policymaking would also become more
sustainable and in line with climate ambitions.
Sweden is known to score highly on gender indexes, such as the EU Gender Equality Index ,
and has gender mainstreaming as a policy strategy for realizing gender equality . In the Swedish
transport sector, there is already a recognition of the importance of paying attention to gender aspects
[26–28], even though it is not necessarily realized . In Swedish transport policy, social concerns
are included in the overall target [30,31], with more specific attention to gender reflected in the
functional target that seeks to create accessibility through the design, function and use of the
transport system; this should provide everyone with basic access to good quality transportation in
everyday life, specifically, “the transport system should respond equally to women’s and men’s
transport needs.” Social concerns are also visible in the considerations target, which stipulates that
increased accessibility should be reached in tandem with increased road safety, improved health and
improved environmental performance.
The environmental performance of the transport policy relates to the national environmental
objectives through its overall goal “to hand over to the next generation a society in which the major
environmental problems are solved, without causing increased environmental and health problems
outside of Sweden” [30,31]. Gender is not explicit here.
The Swedish Parliament has adopted a vision of zero net emissions of greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere in Sweden by 2045 . These targets are to be assured through a transport policy in which
emissions must fall by 70% by 2030, with 2010 as the base year. In summary, these general provisions
in policy, coupled with the knowledge that Swedish women’s carbon emissions from transport are
on average lower than men’s—mainly due to men having 44% more car mileage , mostly for work
and business —makes gender analysis highly relevant for the Swedish context.
On the regional/national level, the national Swedish Transport Administration and the regional
authorities participate in the overall planning of transport infrastructure by jointly developing long-
term infrastructure plans for each region. This is basically a four-year process following the political
four-year terms . The orientation of the long-term transport infrastructure planning is established
by the government. The local level and local decisions are important, however, both for providing
the basis for future decisions for the transport system and by having responsibility for local transport
systems. On the local level, the municipalities have the responsibility for establishing and providing
current comprehensive plans (land development plans) to provide guidance for decisions on use of
land and water areas, which thus also forms the basic conditions for future infrastructure planning
on the national/regional level. The land development plans are an important planning tool but,
perhaps more importantly, are an important platform for planners and politicians to gather around
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to discuss each municipality’s future development . The plans, however, are not legally binding.
Municipalities decide on urban planning and transport issues, such as local streets, parking,
maintenance and measures for sustainable travel. At the same time, measurements of local transport
sustainability status indicate that there is variation between the municipalities .
Municipal self-government is a principle that is enshrined in the Swedish constitution. The
municipalities must comply with the framework set by the parliament and the government, but
municipal autonomy gives each municipality the right to make independent decisions and to levy
taxes on its inhabitants to be able to carry out its duties.
In this paper, we ask whether there is a link between women’s presence in policymaking and
sustainable transport policy in line with climate ambitions and whether it is possible to capture such
an effect empirically, in the same way as research on the relationship between gendered influence on
firms’ sustainability performance has done [36,37]. Our research design emerged from a qualitative
study that provided the conceptual material and inspiration for our methodology. In a systematic
literature review, using keyword searches (different varieties of keywords were used to search
abstracts, beginning with “gender/sustainable/transport”; to reduce the number of hits to a
manageable size, the search was refined with other key words, such as “climate”, “energy efficiency”,
“equal representation” and “women”. A total of 63 articles, together with already known works from
previous research, formed the basis for the review) in Scopus, Web of Science and Academic Search
Complete, where we searched for scientific articles on representation in relation to climate issues and
sustainable transport. These articles were analyzed specifically for how they approached and studied
the relationship between gender, climate and transportation; we found that the link has been
explored previously, but with ambiguous results. A careful review of previous studies also indicated
a lack of analyses of gender influence based on quantitative data and at the local level.
The main contribution of this paper is thus a methodological approach in which, besides
generating unique data on representation in municipalities (confirming men’s dominance in
transport policymaking), possibilities for quantitatively measuring gender effects and the level of
sustainability in transport planning are discussed and tested. Challenges in analyzing possible
covariances in the data set are also discussed and presented.
Even though there are sustainability measures directed to freight transports (especially in the
urban area), this paper mainly deals with sustainability within the passenger transport system due
to the general focus within policymaking on measures and strategies directed to this area of transport.
Analyses of policies directed to freight transports are also highly relevant for improving
sustainability, but this is not within the scope of this study.
This article begins with an overview of previous scholarship on gender and sustainable
transport—a crucial foundation for our investigation of the relationship between equal
representation in transport policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport planning, both
conceptually and methodologically. Next, we focus on representation and discuss the data on
representation as one of the variables in our quantitative analysis. This gives an overall view of
women’s representation and how it has changed over time. The analysis is based on unique new data
on representation assembled for this study. In the section that follows, we present our search for
adequate and available data to serve as indicators (indexes) for sustainable transport at the local level.
Next, we present the results of our empirical analysis of a possible relationship between gender
representation in decision-making in Swedish municipal transport-related committees and the level
of sustainability in transport planning as expressed in our indexes. Finally, we discuss the results and
their implications for accommodating climate and sustainability targets.
2. Conceptual and Methodological Concerns
2.1. Literature Review
In search of a suitable way to investigate gender-equal representation in transport policymaking
and the link to the level of sustainability in transport planning, we turned to studies on gender
representation, gender perspectives on sustainable mobility and gender in relation to climate and
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sustainability more generally to provide theoretical and methodological insights into our study.
Many of the articles on gender and sustainable transport in our review focused, however, either on
the relationship between women and transport behavior or on the relationship between women and
attitudes towards sustainability and transport choices. The scholarship was nevertheless suggestive
of the potential for a more extensive representation of women in policymaking and illustrative of
what we might expect with a critical mass of women involved in transport policymaking and what
kind of difference women might make once they have been included in the polity. Also, we could not
find any literature specifically focusing on these issues at the local level.
The literature on behavior and attitudes shows that transport behavior or mobility patterns are
gendered in a way that also suggests they are more sustainable. Most studies that analyze gendered
transport behavior are conducted through quantitative methods in which the sex variable is included
in a regression analysis—often together with other socio-demographic variables—to analyze
transport modal choices and their implications for carbon emissions and sustainability. Although
these studies are not global, they emerge from various locations in the world [38–50]. The studies do
confirm the gendered nature of transport choices. Furthermore, they clearly illustrate that gender
does not impact in a universal way, but that the geographic, social and cultural context also influence
mobility patterns. Our study is on the Swedish case, and, therefore, studies that have analyzed
mobility patterns in Sweden [19,26,51–53], are of relevance. They largely concur with research in the
field in other contexts as they conclude that women’s mobility is less car-dependent and leads to
lower CO2 emissions than men’s. Women’s transport behavior can be expected to have significance,
as gendered experiences of mobility favor women’s contributions to sustainable transport
Women’s attitudes can be expected to influence policymaking. A quantitative study by
Sundström and McCright  focused on the link between gender and environmental attitudes in
Sweden. It looked at four levels of the polity and demonstrated a significant gender gap regarding
the degree of environmental concern among the citizens, among the municipal councils and at the
regional level. Only in the national parliament was the difference not statistically significant .
Various surveys have shown that women in the EU and the US are more concerned about climate
issues than men [55–59]. Women are also more in favor of implementing measures that could
improve the situation and state that they are more inclined to change their own behavior. This is in
accordance with Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s surveys on climate change [60–62],
which have demonstrated gendered differences in knowledge and attitudes towards climate change
. More specifically, women were found to be more concerned with both the environment and
with the needs of other users, especially the elderly, the disabled, bicyclists and pedestrians [53,63,64].
Questions related to mobility and transport behavior also show gender differences, as women put
more emphasis on environmental and traffic safety issues than men [52,65]. These values match what
would be expected from a sustainable transport system. Studies conducted in other geographical
areas highlight that the gender variable is significant regarding attitudes and the propensity to want
to change policies and behavior, but also that gender interacts and is co-dependent with other socio-
demographic variables [66–70]. These studies on the gender differentials in behavior and attitudes
suggest that, if women were equally represented in policymaking, the gender differentials would be
carried over to impact policymaking.
Representation, or the lack thereof, is a crucial topic in gender studies on democracy; if gender
representation is imbalanced in democratic institutions, it is a sign of an ill-functioning democracy
. Policymaking is considered democratic when women and men enjoy equal representation and
when women can influence policymaking to the same degree as men. To explore women’s
involvement in policymaking, scholars have developed two concepts: descriptive and substantive
Descriptive representation refers to the number of male and female bodies present in institutions
where political decisions are made , and the democratic quality of the polity clearly improves
with a larger community of female politicians and decision-makers . Substantive representation
means that women’s presence is expected to have an impact. The concept of “critical mass” qualifies
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this notion as women’s presence must be of a certain magnitude to have any substantive effect on
policies . Drude Dahlerup argued that at least 40% is needed to influence policymaking [75,76].
Studies on descriptive representation have centered on issues like reproductive rights or violence
against women and not on policymaking for sustainable climate and transport policy. Using this
terminology, our analysis was concerned with how descriptive and substantive representation are
linked, and we expected a critical mass of women involved in transport policymaking to lead to
However, any assumption that women’s policymaking is different from that of men might be
premature, as the evidence is far from conclusive . The link is more probabilistic than
deterministic , and, when found, such linkages are not straightforward but complex and
multifaceted [77,78]. A strict focus on representation might under-estimate internal power dynamics
in, and the normative context of, political institutions . However, Nagel  suggested turning
the argument around—that the critical mass of male policymakers has had a specific impact on
climate change: “The policies that shape local, national and international responses to climate change
reflect the gendered power, privilege and preoccupations of mostly male policymakers around the
world” [80,p4], thereby suggesting that there is a link between the descriptive representation of
(mostly) men in policymaking and the substantive outcomes in terms of policy. This does not rule
out that gender power as reflected in male representation is strengthened by institutional norms.
Similar arguments—although not necessarily employing the above concepts—can be found in
the literature on gender and transport sustainability [81–90]. These studies have argued for the need
for women’s perspectives in climate and transport policymaking because, when it is lacking,
women’s use and experience of the transport system will not influence planning and policymaking.
Only a few studies have explicitly addressed the relationship between women’s representation
and sustainability. While many quantitative studies have used gender or sex as a variable to study
women’s travel patterns, attitudes or political representation, they have not linked this to
sustainability. Three studies have explored this link on the national level; two of these were
quantitative and used regression analysis, and both found a positive correlation between women’s
representation and sustainable outcomes, defined as environmental treaties and carbon emissions. In
a global study, Norgaard and York  assessed the relationship between women’s participation in
parliament and the rate of environmental treaty ratification and showed that states with a higher
proportion of women’s representation are more likely to sign environmental treaties, thus suggesting
that improving gender equity also supports environmental reforms . In another article, Ergas and
York  related women’s representation to a state’s climate emissions. When they assessed the
effects of women’s political status—using an index based on a combination of seats in parliament,
year of women’s suffrage and percentage of women in ministries—on per-capita World Bank CO2
emissions data, they found that, when women’s political status is higher, per-capita CO2 emissions
are lower. Our research puzzle found a starting point in these findings.
However, contrary results were found in the third study, which was based on qualitative data
from Scandinavian climate policymaking institutions. In that study, equal representation did not
result in any visible effects on the content of climate policy documents nor on institutional practices
[93,94]. Data on representation of the percentage of women in both political and administrative
climate institutions (such as Environmental ministries and Environment, Transport and Energy
Agencies in the cases of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In the case of the EU Commission,
representation in the EU Climate DG was analysed) where policies are crafted was studied. Effects
on policy were assumed to be traceable, through text analysis and that gender aspects would in some
way become visible in climate policy documents. They found that, despite equal representation, there
was a complete silence on gender in policy texts. This lack was verified in interviews with policy
makers who lacked insights on whether and how gender issues have relevance for climate change.
2.2. Input to the Study Outline
Overall, as became apparent from the literature review, the hypothesis that women’s
representation in policymaking will have effects leading to more sustainable transport has not been
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fully substantiated. Our findings also indicate that the link between gender and environmental
sustainability has had little scholarly attention (in line with  Wilson & Chu, 2019). In particular,
we have not found any specific research publications investigating the link between local decision-
making and sustainability action, and this is where the current study contributes, with an analysis in
the Swedish context.
Previous studies on representation and transport sustainability [91–94] have either used
statistics on female representation in political bodies alone or female representation in political and
administrative bodies together. The work of Ergas and York  also assessed the effects of women’s
political status, including information on the year of women’s suffrage, thereby acknowledging that
the share of female bodies may not mirror prevailing power relations and that various organizational
positions, such as being a chairperson, have influence. Political party affiliation may be relevant, for
instance, parties with leftist ideologies with egalitarian values favor equal representation . This
effect has diminished over time as equality policies have become more common. In the 2014 Swedish
elections, all parties used some form of quota .
With an identified lack of other studies on local decision-making and sustainable transport, we
proceeded with a focus on representation of politicians. Party affiliation may also be regarded as less
relevant at the municipal level in Sweden, where there are often alliances between parties and voting
collaborations to a greater degree than at the national level . There are even committees, boards
and councils that are shared between two or three municipalities, one example of which is the
municipalities of Askersund, Laxå and Lekeberg, which share committees for IT, building and the
3. Trends in Women’s Representation
3.1. Municipal Organisation in Sweden
In Sweden, the council is the local parliament directly elected by citizens. The municipal board
is the local government, often based on a coalition between the parties with the most seats. Boards
and councils are responsible for the broader political decisions in the municipalities, and the council
decides which committees should be present in the municipality. The council also appoints elected
representatives as regular members and substitutes for the municipal board and the committees
based on agreements between parties.
Since the municipalities themselves decide which committees they want, the organizational
structure varies between municipalities. A committee receives its mission from the council and is
responsible for a specific area. The committees are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the
municipality, preparing matters to be decided by the council and carrying out decisions made by the
council. On minor issues, the committees have decision-making power [99,100].
3.2. Data on Representation
As transport-related committees are the bodies closest to transport decisions that are important
for sustainability in the transport system, we systematically gathered new, unique data on women’s
representation in them for all municipalities in Sweden for 2003–2017. To observe changes over time
and to give an overall view of women’s representation in municipalities, we also assembled data on
women’s representation in the boards and councils.
The main source for statistics on women’s representation in municipal councils and boards was
Statistics Sweden, since municipalities are obliged to report the gender distribution of municipal
bodies after each election. From this source, data on gender distribution was collected for 2003, 2007,
2011 and 2015. Additional data on representation for boards and councils for 2017 (representation at
the time of data collection) was gathered from municipal websites. For some municipalities, this
information was not available for the board and/or council at the time of the study (see number of
observations in Table 1).
Since the focus of the study was on transport-related decisions, and we wanted to collect data
on the representation of women in the municipal committees that are responsible for transport
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decisions, information on the areas of responsibility for the municipal committees was collected from
their websites. There were some difficulties in obtaining this data, as committee names, organization
and division of responsibilities varies between municipalities. Some transport committees are shared
between municipalities or do not exist at all, with transport-related decisions handled by the
municipal board; in some cases, there was no available information on the committee members.
Based on the information available from the municipalities’ websites, the relevant committees for
2017 were identified. This information was also applied to identify the relevant committees for
previous years. However, for many municipalities, it was not possible to track the same committee
over time due to changes in organization, name, etc. This resulted in a reduced number of
municipalities for the first years of the studied period (see number of observations in Table 2).
Table 1. Statistics for women’s representation (regular members) in municipal boards and councils.
Board, Years Council, Years
2003 2007 2011 2015 2017 2003 2007 2011 2015 2017
Average 0.31 0.33 0.36 0.36 0.34 0.42 0.42 0.43 0.43 0.42
Stdv 0.18 0.18 0.20 0.20 0.21 0.05 0.06 0.05 0.05 0.06
Max 0.82 0.82 0.90 0.91 1.00 0.55 0.55 0.56 0.60 0.62
Min 0 0 0 0 0 0.27 0.23 0.26 0.26 0.22
N 289 289 289 289 282 289 289 289 289 278
Table 2. Statistics for women’s representation (regular members) in municipal transport-related
2003 2007 2011 2015 2017
Average 0.22 0.24 0.28 0.28 0.27
Stdv 0.13 0.15 0.14 0.16 0.17
Max 0.60 0.71 0.67 1.00 1.00
Min 0 0 0 0 0
N 118 146 157 228 267
3.3. Trends in Women’s Representation
The trends over time indicate a steady, statistically significant increase in women’s
representation as regular members in all studied municipal bodies from 2003 to 2011. There was,
however, no significant difference in women’s representation from 2011 to 2015. Women’s
representation decreased—statistically significantly—from the 2015 election until the current,
between-election representation. This is an interesting result, although not further elaborated upon
in this paper. During the studied period from 2003 to 2017, the standard deviation of women’s
representation also increased, suggesting that there are still some municipalities with low
representation of women, while others have increased.
We find it interesting to compare representation in the different municipal bodies. The
representation is somewhat higher for boards and councils, but still below what can be considered
gender-equal. It is the councils that have the most gender-equal representation, with an average
above 40% for all studied years, amounting to what would be considered a critical mass [74,101].
Turning to the committees on transport, we note that women’s representation is comparatively low,
with averages of less than a third.
That there is a lower gender representation within the transport area is a trend noted overall for
both Scandinavian countries  and the EU . It suggests that transport is a masculine-coded
issue area, neither attracting female politicians nor implicitly working to exclude them. Indeed, the
idea that transport is masculine-coded has been suggested in studies that have analyzed difficulties
in restricting car use and linked to prevailing masculine norms embedded in the transport sector
[20–22]. Johnston et al.  also suggested that “public bureaucracies are not gender neutral but
rather the domain of masculinity” [103, p537].
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4. Representation and Sustainability Outcomes
In this paper, we ask whether there is a link between women’s presence in policymaking and
sustainable transport policies in line with climate ambitions, and whether it is possible to capture
such an effect empirically. In this section, we give a broad description of our search for adequate and
available data that can be used. We also present results from the empirical analysis, with the ambition
of exploring the possible effect of women’s representation in municipalities in Sweden on the level
of sustainability in local transport planning.
4.1. Data and Indicators
4.1.1. Sustainability in Transport Planning
To quantitatively capture the level of transport sustainability connected to climate emissions for
each municipality, various variables were considered, since transport sustainability has no easily
measured indicator. Since car mileage needs to be reduced to reach climate targets, statistics from the
Swedish national travel survey on the total number of car kilometers per municipality (or car
kilometers per capita) were considered (see Transport Analysis  for information on the survey).
However, due to limitations in the size of the data set on the local level, these statistics were
disregarded. Statistics on the number of car kilometers reported centrally by all companies carrying
out motor vehicle inspections were also disregarded because they lacked information for newer cars
(there are no inspections for cars aged three years or less), leased cars and cars owned by companies
(see Transport Analysis  for information).
We therefore experienced problems finding good quality data on sustainability connected to
climate emissions (CO2) with national coverage. Another alternative considered was analysis of the
allocated budget for sustainable transport at the municipal level, but it was deemed impossible to
single out this expenditure from the budget for all municipalities. Various “ready-made” indicators
of sustainability were also considered, such as “SHIFT” presented in Neergaard el al., , which
would enable evaluation and ranking of the local work on transport sustainability, and a
sustainability index developed by the Swedish organization Aktuell Hållbarhet, which includes
various aspects of sustainability, including management of transport, water and energy. However,
these were disregarded due to limited coverage of Swedish municipalities—they are often limited to
larger municipalities and/or those engaged in transport sustainability measures—or due the
inclusion of variables other than transport sustainability.
In the en d, w e deci ded to use s pecifi c part s of th e survey carried out annually by the organization
Aktuell Hållbarhet (index year 2017) and a survey carried out by the National Board of Housing,
Building and Planning (BHBP) (survey year 2015). Based on responses to these surveys, we
constructed two indexes based on eight questions connected to the presence of sustainable transport
planning documents, strategies and actions (see Table 3). The use of these variables was inspired by
Magnusdottír and Kronsell [93,94] and Norgaard and York , who suggested that the relationship
between women’s representation and the level of sustainability in transport planning could be
analyzed through documents, strategies and plans. Both surveys we used have a large coverage of
Swedish municipalities with a response rate of approximately 90%. The responses used were of two
types, describing (1) presence of policies and planning documents and (2) implementation and
actions. The analysis of the relationship between representation and sustainability in transport was
based on the sum of all eight responses, assuming both equal weighting of each variable, and the sum
of responses of each type.
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Table 3. Questions and response options used for the sustainability indexes, separated by index type.
Type 1: Policy and Planning Documents Response Options Survey Year of
Strategy following Agenda 2030 Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Environmental goals Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Climate goals Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Program for sustainable transport Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Documents supporting sustainable transport
and reduced transport
Yes for all areas (3), Yes partly
(2), Work in progress (1), No (0) BHBP 2015
Type 2: Implementation and Actions Response options Survey Year of
Follow-up on climate goals Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Economic instruments/actions targeting CO2
emissions from municipal transport Yes (2), Partly (1), No (0) Aktuell
Actions supporting sustainable transport last
two years Yes (2), No (0) BHBP 2015
4.1.2. Women’s Representation
To study the possible relationship between women’s representation and the level of
sustainability in transport planning, we considered the time lag between when decisions are made
and when the outcome of those decisions can be identified. Some decisions, such as parking
restrictions, have an immediate effect on the transport system while others, such as infrastructure
investments, have an effect after several years. We based our analysis on women’s representation in
2011 and 2015 and its relationship to our sustainability indexes based on information from the years
2015 and 2017.
In the analysis, we used women’s representation in 2011 and 2015 in transport-related
committees (see section 3.2), being the bodies closest to transport decisions important for
sustainability in the transport system. Combining the municipalities for which information regarding
representation in 2011 and 2015 could be found (as presented in Table 1) with the restriction to only
include municipalities that answered all the questions that our indexes were based on, the analysis
was conducted for a total of 109 municipalities for representation in 2011 and 153 municipalities for
4.1.3. Other Explanatory Variables
Wide  analyzed women’s representation at the municipal level in Norway for the period
from 1947 to 2007, and its spatial variations. In her analysis, the structural context, including socio-
economy, population, population density and gender share (percentage of women in the population),
was assumed to have an effect on society’s demand for female politicians and the supply of female
candidates (i.e., interest of women in engaging in politics). Inspired by Wide , we also included
information on the structural context for each municipality, with a focus on socioeconomic status, as
well as spatial and mobility factors (see Table 4). Our assumption was that these structural context
factors are also related to the level of sustainability in transport planning. Information regarding
population, population density, degree of densification and gender share, plus a socioeconomic
index, was collected at the municipal level, together with the factor most strongly related to mobility:
the number of cars per inhabitant . Data from 2015 was used, except for the share of population
living in urban areas, for which only data from 2010 was available.
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Table 4. Explanatory factors considered in the regression analyses besides women’s representation in
transport-related committees. Source: Statistics Sweden (2018).
Variable Mean Min Max Year
Population 39,617 4180 923,520 2015
Population density (inhabitants/1000 km2) 146.37 0.3 4,934 2015
% Population in urban areas 76.5 31 100 2010
Gender share (% women) 50.0 47.4 51.4 2015
Socioeconomic index 5.5 3 8 2015
Number of cars per 1000 inhabitants 424 200 520 2015
Multiple regression analysis was used to study the possible interdependence between the level
of sustainability in transport planning and women’s representation on the local level. Regression
models were estimated using both types of sustainability indexes (see Table 3) as well as the sum of
both indexes as dependent variables and women’s representation in transport-related committees in
2011 and 2015, as independent variables together with additional explanatory variables.
To form an initial overview of the explanatory factors considered in the regression analysis, a
correlation analysis was conducted using Pearson’s correlation coefficient. This analysis showed a
significant correlation between several of the factors considered as explanatory variables (Table 5).
Multiple linear regression models were also estimated that included all explanatory variables
considered, besides women’s representation in 2011 and 2015. In the models, all variance inflation
factors were larger than 10, suggesting a high degree of multicollinearity and corresponding well to
the results of the correlation analysis. This result accords with what was found by Wide  and
indicates that female representation tends to be higher in municipalities with larger populations and
higher population densities. Due to correlations identified between possible explanatory variables,
the regression analysis was restricted to one founding explanatory variable besides women’s
representation. Population density was ultimately considered the most relevant factor describing the
Table 5. Pearson’s correlation coefficient between variables considered as independent variables in
the regression analysis.
0.37 ** 1.00
density 0.06 0.12 1.00
index −0.05 −0.09 −0.21 ** 1.00
% of population
in urban area 0.01 0.05 0.40 ** −0.25 ** 1.00
Gender share 0.13 * 0.11 0.30 ** −0.49 ** 0.53 ** 1.00
Population 0.15 ** 0.18 ** 0.80 ** −0.16 ** 0.34 ** 0.32 ** 1.00
Cars per 1,000
inhabitants −0.14 * −0.14 * −0.60 ** 0.28 ** −0.48 ** −0.33 ** −0.56 ** 1.00
* Significant at .10 level, ** Significant at .05 level.
In line with Kanter , on the need for a critical mass of women in order to influence policies,
we also made a separate analysis dividing the data set into committees with and without a critical
Sustainability 2019, 11, 4728 11 of 18
mass of women. In this segmentation, we used the threshold of 40%, as discussed by Dahlerup and
Freidenvall . Significant differences in sustainability outcomes between these subsets were tested
Through multiple regression analyses, we analyzed whether the level of sustainability in
transport planning on the local level (based on sustainability indexes) could be explained by the
representation of women in transport-related committees and the population density. The results are
presented in Table 6 for women’s representation in 2011 and Table 7 for women’s representation in
2015. In all regression models, the estimated coefficient for population density were significantly
different from zero indicating an influence of population density on the level of transport
sustainability whereas the estimated coefficients for women’s representation were all insignificant,
indicating no significant impact on transport sustainability. For all models estimated, the statistics
for goodness of fit generally indicated low explanatory power.
Table 6. Estimated coefficients in regression models for sustainability indexes based on information
from 2015 and 2017 and women’s representation in 2015 in transport-related committees (p-values in
Independent Variable Index Type 1 (Policy) Index Type 2 (Actions) Summed Index
Intercept 5.04 (0.00) 3.34 (0.00) 8.38 (0.00)
Population density 0.79 (0.02) 0.40 (0.02) 1.19 (0.00)
Women’s representation in committees in 2015 0.23 (0.84) 0.91 (0.17) 1.13 (0.48)
F 4.26 4.28 4.98
Adj R2 0.04 0.04 0.05
Table 7. Estimated coefficients in regression models for sustainability indexes based on information
from 2015 and 2017 and women’s representation in 2011 in transport-related committees (p-values in
Independent Variable Index Type 1
Index Type 2
Intercept 5.15 (0.00) 3.33 (0.00) 8.48 (0.00)
Population density 0.69 (0.02) 0.37 (0.03) 1.06 (0.01)
Women’s representation in
committees in 2011 −0.23 (0.88) 0.95 (0.29) 0.73 (0.74)
F 3.00 3.10 3.45
Adj R2 0.03 0.04 0.04
To consider the need for a critical mass of women in order to influence policies, differences in
the sustainability indexes were analyzed between committees both with and without a 40%
representation of women, see Table 8. There was a possibility that the general low level of women’s
representation (i.e., relatively few observations with women’s representation being 40% or higher)
would diminish the likelihood of showing a significant difference in the dataset. For 2011, the number
of municipalities with more/less than 40% of women’s representation was 27/70. For 2015, the ratio
Sustainability 2019, 11, 4728 12 of 18
Table 8. T-test statistics for differences in sustainability indexes based on information from 2015 and
2017 between municipalities with more than 40% and less than 40% of women’s representation in
transport-related committees in 2011 and 2015.
Year Index Type 1
Index Type 2
(Actions) Summed Index
2011 0.38 0.16 0.06
2015 0.36 0.20 0.16
Although Sweden is considered to be a country with a high representation of women in decision-
making bodies , the overview in this study indicates very low representation of women in
transport-related committees at the municipal level over time (for some committees, none). The
representation is somewhat higher for boards, and only the councils can be considered gender-equal.
This underrepresentation of women, especially in transport committees, is problematic because the
democratic quality of the polity clearly improves when women’s representation increases .
Whether these conditions have implications for climate ambitions and sustainability in transport
planning has been the focus of this study. In search of a suitable way to investigate the relationship
between equal representation in transport policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport
planning, we conducted a literature review and an empirical analysis.
The literature review suggested that there are reasons to be cautious about assuming a simple
link between women’s representation in policymaking and the level of sustainability in transport
planning. Some studies have argued that there is a relationship between women’s representation and
sustainable decisions [91,92], whereas others have not found such a relationship . As there are
few studies on this link, we decided to test it empirically and specifically at the municipal level, as
we could find no similar prior studies. There is also an interest in conducting studies at this level in
Sweden, based on organizational structures with well-founded municipal autonomy.
The search for adequate and available data on sustainability to be used for the empirical analysis
turned out to be an important contribution of this study. Initially, we planned for the level of
sustainability in transport planning to be measured as the number of car kilometers driven in the
municipality. However, figures with sufficient quality were lacking at the municipal level
nationwide, and we searched for a sustainability index aimed at transport with good coverage and
enough resolution at the municipal level. This, too, turned out to be lacking. Instead, we developed
our own indexes based on questions mainly reflecting the municipalities’ preparation of various
planning documents and some actions related to those documents.
When we analyzed the relationship between female representation in decision-making bodies
and sustainability outcomes in the transport system, we experienced further difficulties. In the
regression analysis, we initially planned to include several structural context factors as additional
explanatory variables based on their assumed relationship with the level of sustainability. Variables
such as population, population density, degree of densification, gender share (percentage of women
in the population), socioeconomic index and number of cars per inhabitant were considered. Most of
the structural factors, however, showed a strong correlation both with female representation and
between each other (much in the same way as in Wide . This result indicated that higher
population densities relate to larger cities, lower car ownership, higher shares of women and a better
socio-economy. Hence, in the final regression model (Tables 6 and 7), a single structural factor
(population density) was included. The population density was considered the most adequate
variable for describing the general structural context, and it was found significant for all regression
models estimated. This is not surprising, given that higher population density provides better
conditions for sustainable transportation than less densely populated areas. Densely populated
municipalities are also likely to be municipalities with larger populations and more tax income,
resulting in larger investment budgets (including for sustainable transport).
In the analysis, we also had to decide whether to consider a time lag between decisions and their
effects on sustainability. This was done by analyzing the relationship between women’s
Sustainability 2019, 11, 4728 13 of 18
representation in 2011 and 2015 and the various aspects of sustainability based on information from
2015 and 2017. We also discussed whether the causality could be the other way around, i.e. that the
share of women in transport committees is dependent on earlier levels of sustainability. A high
sustainability outcome would then attract women to politics, thus increasing the share of women
In our literature review, we found three studies that explored the link between female
representation and sustainability on the national level. Two quantitative studies, Noorgaard and
York , a UK study on environmental treaty ratification, and Ergas and York , a global study
on CO2 emissions, found positive correlations between women’s representation and sustainable
outcomes, defined as environmental treaties and carbon emissions, respectively. However, contrary
results were found in the study of Magnusdottír & Kronsell , based on qualitative data from
Scandinavian climate policymaking institutions. In that study, equal representation did not result in
any visible effects on the content of climate policy documents nor on institutional practices.
The result of our quantitative study indicated no significant relationship between our transport
sustainability index and women’s representation. The notion of critical mass was also considered in
the analysis when comparing the sustainability outcome of municipalities with more/less than 40%
of women’s representation. This analysis also showed no significant differences. However, since
there was barely a critical mass of women in transport-related committees mapped in this study, it is
not likely that there would be any strong evidence of women’s more sustainable decision-making.
Focusing on the result of the regression analysis, it is difficult to say whether the results of our
study are consistent with or different from previous studies since there are both similarities and
differences in their outlines. Our study focused on Swedish local conditions, analyzing representation
of municipal politicians in transport-related committees and measuring transport sustainability
through indexes illustrating both the presence of policy and planning documents and their
implementations and actions, and it can be argued that this is somewhat in line with the study by
Magnusdottír and Kronsell .
One explanation for representation not showing any correlation with sustainability outcomes in
both studies might be that the Swedish transport sector is still run according to masculinity norms,
which means that practices, planning and structures overrule the presence of women and any
femininities they might bring with them—an aspect discussed by Pini and McDonald . This is
also in line with the results of Farrell and Titcombe , who reported the experiences of elected
local officials in Wales and described the culture and ways of running offices as less appealing to
women. The effect of female representatives might also be overruled by an attitude/intention–
behavioral gap, as discussed among others by Pronello and Gaborieau . Yet another explanation
for representation not showing any correlation with sustainability outcomes could be that, since
gender equality is a target in Swedish national policy, representation might not be as important for
sustainability outcomes. Representation might be less important for including gender aspects when
explicitly stipulated in the policy. The variation in our sustainability indexes is also limited compared
to, for example, the study by Ergas and York , which made a global comparison of CO2 emissions
by country, making it more statistically difficult to capture an effect of female representation on
As mentioned in Section 2.2, there is a higher degree of negotiation and co-operation across party
boundaries at the local level than on the national level in Sweden. We therefore think it is less likely
that we would have found a different result if we had also considered party affiliation in our analysis.
However, and more importantly, we think that future studies should consider information on the
hierarchal positions of female representatives, such as chairpersons, to examine differences in power.
This was difficult to include in the current study analyzing representation in committees related to
transport discussions, since there were often a number of such committees in each municipality,
committees were sometimes shared between two or three municipalities, and the chairperson can
change and is less stable during elected periods.
In conclusion, then, further research should be undertaken to better understand the relationship
between representation and sustainable decisions in transport planning. The study presented in this
Sustainability 2019, 11, 4728 14 of 18
article has not been able to show any significant correlations, but, as expected, the relationships
between representation and sustainability are likely more complex than this study has been able to
measure. Wilson and Chu  also, in a very well-articulated way, pinpointed the inadequacy of
focusing merely on participation. This argument is also in line with Wängnerud , who suggested
that the link is more probabilistic than deterministic, and the linkages are not straightforward but
complex and multifaceted.
Even though the link between representation and sustainability demands further research,
further studies should also consider how to move research from the counting of bodies and the
representation of women in sustainable transport policymaking to looking at how gender norms
inform policymaking, since the low representation of women in transport-related policymaking
demonstrated here appears to be a more general trend. The study presented in this paper indicates
that there is a need for further analysis of institutional factors and values embodied in organizations
that somehow make transport a masculine-coded sector or, taking Nagel’s  viewpoint, that the
overrepresentation of men in transport policymaking has had substantive effects in terms of a
predominantly masculine sector.
Author Contributions: The research presented in the article, as well as the writing of the paper, was carried out
as a collaborative effort among the four authors. The quantitative regression analysis was mainly done by Lena
W.H., whereas A.K. had the main responsibility for the literature review.
Funding: This research was funded by the Swedish Energy Agency grant number 43165-1 and the APC was
funded by Lund University.
Acknowledgments: We are greatly indebted to Gunilla Sanden and Josefin Söderlund Bohlin who, as interns at
Trivector AB in Lund and Stockholm respectively, helped us with the literature review and the sustainability
index. We are also grateful for comments and insights from Merritt Polk who acts as a scientific advisor for the
research presented in this paper.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest
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