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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gender and Legal Scholarship

In the spring, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable on Increasing Author Diversity in Legal Scholarship: Individual and Institutional Strategies, which was sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Law and the Maryland Law Review.  The roundtable explored a number of topics, including how law students are selected for journal membership, and how those students select articles to publish in their journals.  We spent considerable time discussing Of Authorship and Audacity: An Empirical Study of Gender Disparity and Privilege in the "Top Ten" Law Reviews, in which Minna Kotkin found that only 20% of articles in top law journals were written by women even though women make up 31% of the tenured/tenure-track faculty at law schools across the country.  Kotkin's article received attention in the blogosphere, here and here, when she first posted a draft back in 2009.

Chris Cotropia (Richmond) and Lee Petherbridge (Loyola--LA) have written a more recent article, Gender Disparity in Law Review Citation Rates, that raises some interesting questions.  Cotropia and Petherbridge studied the impact of gender on citation rates for articles published in top 100 law journals between 1990 and 2010.  Cotropia and Petherbridge were surprised to find that, unlike in other disciplines, law review articles written by women are cited more than those written by men.  While there has been some discussion of the authors' methodology, I'd like to focus on the question they pose toward the end of the article: why?

Cotropia and Petherbridge indicate that an explanation would require further research, but wonder whether legal scholars are less inclined to bias citation by gender, or perhaps women legal scholars are more likely to cite themselves than women in other fields.  Naomi Cahn (George Washington), who also participated in the roundtable, said that one possible explanation is that women's articles are simply better than men's.  Or maybe female-authored articles are more memorable--and thus more likely to be cited--because they are so much rarer than articles written by men.  Indeed, of the 19,259 articles in Cotropia and Petherbridge's study, only 5,189 of them were written by women (4,123 were solo-authored by women; 1,066 were co-authored and included at least one female author).   

Posted by Megan La Belle on June 18, 2015 at 09:32 PM | Permalink


To the extent that there is a problem here, blinding is the solution.

Posted by: ctr | Jun 22, 2015 6:45:55 PM

Orin -- thanks for your comment. I agree with your reading of the study. But, even assuming for the sake of argument that the 1-citation-per-article-average difference is insignificant, the study still raises the question why citation rates for women legal scholars are comparable to male legal scholars, while women scholars in other fields are cited less often than men.

Posted by: Megan La Belle | Jun 19, 2015 2:04:41 PM

If I’m reading the Cotropia & Petherbridge study correctly, the gender differences they find are extremely small. First, the median number of citations was identical: Both male-authored articles and female-authored articles received a median of 12 citation. The average number of citations was nearly identical, too. Male-authored papers averaged 22 citations, and female-authored papers averaged 23 citations. (see page 8 of the draft posted on SSRN) Given that the differences are so small – if I’ reading the study correctly, at least – I’m not sure we need to spend a lot of time explaining such a small gender gap here.

To the extent that we think the 1-citation-per-article-average difference is a major gap, it’s worth noting the chart on page 7 of the C&P study suggesting that male authors write slightly more articles on average than do women. In 2007, for example, women were about 38% of the professors but wrote about 33% of the articles in the study. If that’s correct, then perhaps there some kind of “articles per professor” vs. “citations per article” tradeoff. Either way, the gaps here are pretty small on the whole.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 19, 2015 2:07:09 AM

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