Economic Woman

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Posts Tagged ‘law

Give your daughter an edge: Name her Cameron

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Female lawyers with names perceived as more masculine have a better shot at judgeships, according to Bentley Coffeey of Clemson University and Patrick McLaughlin of George Mason University. The study [gated], based on data from South Carolina, was written up in the Vancouver Sun in August, and has circulated widely since then.

In the American Law and Economics Review, Coffey and his co-authors report that changing a woman’s name from something feminine, such as Sue, to a gender-neutral name, such as Kelly, increases her odds of being appointed a judge by five per cent. A predominantly male name, such as Cameron, triples the odds of becoming a judge. And a swap from Sue to Bruce, a name used almost exclusively for men, increases the odds of judgeship by a factor of five.

According to Canwest, a later study controls for debt on graduation and experience, and still finds a significant effect. I can’t locate that paper, though – perhaps it’s still unpublished? Those controls are important, obviously, since given names vary between classes.

What is the mechanism here? Is there some immediate positive feeling we get from assuming that someone is male, in the brief period before our first impression is corrected? I can’t think of another explanation. This is interesting, because law is a field where women have made a lot of progress. We’re supposed to believe that women – who are well represented in the legal profession – don’t make it to the highest echelons in large numbers because they drop out to have children. But clearly, that is not all that is going on.

This is nothing new, of course. Commenter Victoria Pynchon at Legal Blog Watch points out that blind auditions increase the number of women in symphonies. This study [gated] of academic hiring found that men and women were both, on average, biased in favour of male applicants. Of course, we cannot assume that unconscious (or conscious!) bias comes into play in every situation. This paper on blind marking for UK A-level exams [gated] finds no effect.

If I can be forgiven for broad application of these fairly narrow results, I there is an argument here for gender blind hiring. Reviewing a resume without knowing the applicant’s gender might seem pointless since gender will (generally) be pretty obvious at the interview. But if that brief period of impartiality is what is giving these South Carolina judges an advantage, maybe it’s worth the hassle.

(H/t to Marginal Revolution and TaxProf Blog)

Written by Allison

18 September 2009 at 11:49 am

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