It turns out that judges with daughters are more likely to vote in favor of women’s rights than ones with only sons. The effect, a new study found, is most pronounced among male judges appointed by Republican presidents, like Chief Justice Rehnquist.
“Our basic finding is quite startling,” said Maya Sen, a political scientist at the University of Rochester who conducted the Harvard Study on Judge Bias along with Adam Glynn, a government professor at Harvard.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist left his home with his daughter Janet Rehnquist in Arlington, Va., in 2005. Credit J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
The standard scholarly debate about how judges decide cases tends to revolve around two factors: law and ideology. “Here, we’ve found evidence that there is a third factor that matters: personal experiences,” Professor Sen said. “Things like having daughters can actually fundamentally change how people view the world, and this, in turn, affects how they decide cases.”
The new study considered some 2,500 votes by 224 federal appeals court judges. “Having at least one daughter,” it concluded, “corresponds to a 7 percent increase in the proportion of cases in which a judge will vote in a feminist direction.”
Additional daughters do not seem to matter. But the effect of having a daughter is even larger when you limit the comparison to judges with only one child.
“Having one daughter as opposed to one son,” the study found, “is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction.”
The authors also looked at the same judges’ votes in a separate set of 3,000 randomly chosen cases. There was no relationship between having daughters and liberal votes generally. Daughters made a difference in only “civil cases having a gendered dimension.”
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.