UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 28, 2009

FEMALE LAWYERS HAVE BETTER CHANCE OF BECOMING JUDGES WITH MALE NAMES

Change - A paper by two economics researchers found that female lawyers with masculine-sounding names have a better chance of becoming judges. Changing one's name from Sue to Cameron increases the chances of reaching the bench by a factor of 3, the authors found. Changing it from Sue to Bruce makes that a factor of 5.

The paper tests the Portia hypothesis, named for the character in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice who disguises herself as a man in order to win a court case as an attorney's apprentice. The study was conducted in South Carolina, where some judges are elected. Judicial elections are notorious for flying under the radar, so many judges are chosen based on their name on a ballot, and this study suggests that it's helpful in these blind elections to have a man's name.

There are plenty of other studies out there on the power of a name. This paper references a 2007 study showing that immigrants to Sweden who change their names to sound Swedish make more money. The authors of Freakonomics have famously hypothesized that children given uniquely African-American names are more likely to struggle in life . . .

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