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Implicit Gender Bias in the Legal Profession: An Empirical Study

44 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2011  

Justin D. Levinson

University of Hawaii - William S. Richardson School of Law

Danielle Young

University of Hawaii at Manoa - Department of Psychology

Date Written: August 1, 2010

Abstract

Commentators have marveled at the continuing lack of gender diversity in the legal profession’s most influential and honored positions. After achieving near equal numbers of male and female law school graduates for approximately two decades, the gap between men and women in law firms, legal academia, and the judiciary remains stark. Several scholars have argued that due to negative stereotypes portraying women either as workplace cutthroats or, conversely, as secretaries or housewives, decision-makers continue to subordinate women to men in the highest levels of the legal profession. Despite these compelling arguments, no empirical studies have tested whether implicit gender bias might explain the disproportionately low number of women attorneys in leadership roles.

In order to test the hypothesis that implicit gender bias drives the continued subordination of women in the legal profession, we designed and conducted an empirical study. The study tested whether law students hold implicit gender biases related to women in the legal profession, and further tested whether these implicit biases predict discriminatory decision-making. The results of the study were both concerning and hopeful. As predicted, we found that implicit biases were pervasive; a diverse group of both male and female law students implicitly associated judges with men, not women, and also associated women with the home and family. Yet the results of the remaining portions of the study offered hope. Participants were frequently able to resist their implicit biases and make decisions in gender neutral ways. Taken together, the results of the study highlight two conflicting sides of the ongoing gender debate: first, that the power of implicit gender biases persists, even in the next generation of lawyers; and second, that the emergence of a new generation of egalitarian law students may offer some hope for the future.

Keywords: gender bias, implicit bias, judicial selection, implicit associations, gender stereotypes, empirical legal studies

Suggested Citation

Levinson, Justin D. and Young, Danielle, Implicit Gender Bias in the Legal Profession: An Empirical Study (August 1, 2010). Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1790742

Justin Levinson (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii - William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

Danielle Young

University of Hawaii at Manoa - Department of Psychology ( email )

United States

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