Having a Daughter Makes Judges more Sympathetic to Women’s Issues

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist with his daughter, Janet (photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

The impact of fatherhood, particularly those with daughters, is apparent with federal judges and their decision-making in cases involving feminist issues, a new study (pdf) shows.


Research indicates judges with female offspring are more likely to vote in favor of women’s rights than ones with only sons.


This tendency is particularly noticeable with male judges appointed by Republican presidents, experts found.


“Our basic finding is quite startling,” Maya Sen, a political scientist at the University of Rochester who worked with Adam Glynn, a government professor at Harvard, told The New York Times.


Legal scholars have long contended that the two most important influences on judges and their rulings are law and ideology. But Sen and Glynn contend a third factor—personal experience—is also prevalent.


“Things like having daughters can actually fundamentally change how people view the world, and this, in turn, affects how they decide cases,” Sen said.


After reviewing the cases of 224 judges and 2,500 of their votes, Sen and Glynn discovered having at least one daughter corresponded with “a 7 percent increase in the proportion of cases in which a judge will vote in a feminist direction,” the study says.


Having more than one daughter did not alter the results, they said. But instances in which judges had only one child, having a daughter produced a larger effect.


“Having one daughter as opposed to one son,” the study says, “is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction.”


Sen explained that daughters allow judges to “learn about what it’s like to be a woman, perhaps a young woman, who might have to deal with issues like equity in terms of pay, university admissions or taking care of children.”


“Justices and judges aren’t machines,” she continued. “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.”


The researchers found no relationship between judges having daughters and their votes in other cases. An influence was seen only in “civil cases having a gendered dimension.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Identifying Judicial Empathy: Does Having Daughters Cause Judges to Rule for Women’s Issues? (by Adam Glynn and Maya Sen, Harvard University) (pdf)

Another Factor Said to Sway Judges to Rule for Women’s Rights: A Daughter (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Having Daughters Increases Parents’ Identification with the Republican Party (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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