Stereotypes in High Stake Decisions: Evidence from U.S. Circuit Courts

  • Date: Dec 11, 2019
  • Time: 17:00
  • Speaker: Daniel Chen
  • Toulouse School of Economics
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Ground Floor

Attitudes towards social groups such as women and racial minorities have been shown to be important determinants of individual’s decisions but are hard to measure for those in policy-making roles. We propose a way to address the challenge in the case of U.S. appellate court judges, for whom we have large corpora of written text (their published opinions). Using the universe of published opinions in U.S. Circuit Courts 1890-2013, we construct a judge-specific measure of gender-stereotyped language (gender slant) by looking at the relative co-occurrence of words identifying gender (male versus female) and words identifying gender stereotypes (career versus family). We find that female and younger judges tend to use less stereotyped language in their opinions. In addition, the attitudes measured by gender slant matter for judicial decisions: judges with higher slant vote more conservatively on women rights’ issues. These more slanted judges also influence workplace outcomes for female colleagues: they are less likely to assign opinions to female judges, they cite fewer female-authored opinions, and they are more likely to reverse lower-court decisions if the lower-court judge is a woman. Our results expose a possible use of text to detect decision-makers’ attitudes that predict behavior and disparate outcomes.

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