We regularly hear of abuses to women’s rights in the courtroom, whether it’s related to employment issues or sexual assault. Yet some judges are staunchly pro-women, ruling in support of most of the women’s rights cases that come before them.
According to a new study, this tendency might actually have to do with their children, or more specifically, their daughters. Maya Sen, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, and Adam Glynn, a government professor at Harvard, authors of the study, found that judges with daughters are more likely to vote in favor of women’s rights than those judges with only sons.
In the study abstract, Sen and Glynn write, “This result survives a number of robustness tests and appears to be driven primarily by Republican judges. More broadly, this result demonstrates that personal experiences influence how judges make decisions, and it is the first paper to show that empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.”
It doesn’t take more than one daughter to make the influence, and that influence is very significant when comparing one-child families.
“Having one daughter as opposed to one son is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction,” said the study.
Apparently this effect isn’t reserved for just judges. “Researchers have found similar ‘daughter effects’ in other areas. Members of Congress with daughters are more likely to cast liberal votes, particularly on abortion rights,†one study found.†Another study showed that British parents with daughters were more likely to vote for left-wing parties, while ones with sons were more likely to vote for right-wing parties,” wrote the New York Times.
When it comes to judges, there’s certainly a gender bias, simply in terms of the people holding judge positions; only 32 percent of active United States district (or trial) court judges are women.
The study also found that this “daughter effect” doesn’t go for all cases across the board, as the†voting trends showed up in only civil cases, for example in employment discrimination as opposed to criminal cases including rape and sexual assault, where the voting trends did not appear.
Professor Sen reminds us that it’s not just because the judges have daughters. It’s because judges are emotional human beings, not robots.
“Justices and judges arenít machines,” Sen told the New York Times. “They are human, just like you and me. And just like you and me, they have personal experiences that affect how they view the world.”
That means that more studies could be done on what exactly sways a judge’s decision, be it experience with a child, or something entirely different like serving in the military.
For now, if you’re a woman in the courtroom, better hope the judge has a daughter.
Photo Credit: Chris Potter