Ten Years of Student Notes

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We have heard a lot lately about women occupying less written space than men.   Women write and review significantly fewer books.  Women author significantly fewer articles in most major magazines.  Even in the supposed cyber-utopia of Wikipedia, women author only fifteen percent of entries.

This disparity extends to student note publication.  My previous research has revealed that in the three most recent volumes of the general-interest law review at the schools ranked in the “top fifteen” by U.S. News and World Report, women published 36% of all student notes.   This was less than the percentage of women enrolled at those schools (47%) and less than the percentage of women who were members of the law review at those schools (40%).

My colleague Jennifer Mullins and I have now assembled a much larger data set in order to better understand the extent of the note publication disparity and to address some of the lingering questions that my previous project left unanswered.  Was the disparity stable across time?  How much did it differ from one school to the next?  Could we draw generalizations about the institutions at which the disparity was relatively large?

Our database currently includes student notes published in the general-interest law reviews at fifty-one schools between academic years 1999-2000 and 2008-2009.  The fifty-one schools were ranked in the “top fifty” by U.S. News in either the 2010 or the 2011 rankings or both (minus Harvard, which does not attribute its notes to individual authors).

The database contains 5844 student notes.  Of these, 2316 were published by women (39.6%) while 3443 notes (58.9%) were published by men.  We were unable to identify the gender of the authors of 85 notes — about 1.5% of the total.  Taking all this into account, the split is roughly sixty-forty.

Our research shows quite a bit of variation from one school to the next.  During the time period we examined, women published anywhere from 15% to nearly 60% of notes in the general-interest law reviews at individual schools.  We have made available a preliminary document containing the data we’ve gathered and a graphical representation of the data at each school.  I do want to emphasize that this information is preliminary:  we are still in the process of soliciting review of our data from the law reviews and will, of course, correct any errors.  With that caveat, the numbers do tend to show a large disparity at many schools.

We have also assembled a lot of other information: enrollment information, law review membership information, information about how law students select notes, information about how note authors select topics.  We’ll make all that publicly available in due course.

But first, it’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and just think about the disparity itself in isolation.  Do we care about a sixty-forty split?  If so, why do we care?  Does whether we care depend on what the underlying cause is?  Or should the disparity trouble us regardless of the underlying cause?

I’ll address these questions in future posts.

– Nancy Leong

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One Response to Ten Years of Student Notes

  1. fontgoddess says:

    >Do we care about a sixty-forty split?
    Yes. Quite a bit, actually.

    >If so, why do we care?
    This might be one of the contributing factors to the continuation of the gender wage gap. If published material is a factor in hiring and raises, than being less published than a male colleague puts women at a disadvantage, and that disadvantage might continue for her whole career. This might be an issue similar to salary negotiation [see: http://www.womendontask.com/stats.html ], where a small disadvantage adds up over a career to a substantial amount of money.
    Also, considering whether publication is a factor in hiring, does this affect the number of women who become judges? If so, this might be another factor in the number of male judges vs. female judges on the bench. As a citizen, I want to be just as likely to see a female judge as a male judge on the bench deciding cases in my community, and deciding cases in state and federal courts and appeals courts.
    Beyond that, if the law is subtly gendered [controversial, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04women.html ], I want there to be both men and women’s voices in the large conversation about the meaning and interpretation of laws, both in academia and beyond. I want both men and women’s words to be read, referenced, and remembered.

    >Does whether we care depend on what the underlying cause is? Or should the disparity trouble us regardless of the underlying cause?
    I care about the issue above the underlying cause, but I also care about the causes. I don’t think the problem can be meaningfully fixed unless we know more about the factors that contribute to its existence. A top-down approach (which is pretty much what laws and rules tend to be) is frequently treating the symptom rather than the disease. Top-down approaches are useful, especially if we have reason to believe the problem will resolve itself with time and need to create immediate change. Only using a top-down approach, however, is frequently inelegant and may allow a chronic problem to persist, masking the problem by treating the most visible of its outcomes.
    In this particular case, I see outcomes like hiring and wage gaps and a loss of women’s voices in our understanding of the law. I don’t care if the underlying cause is that women have more balanced lives and thus spend more time with friends and family than writing papers. That might be great, but the negative outcomes are still the same and are most definitely still problems. With my hypothetical cause, it might indicate that maybe we should be encouraging men to have more balanced lives, too. Not because we necessarily would want to have *less* writing from men, but because social connections and balance might make them happier and make them better lawyers and people.

    So yeah, I think this gender disparity is a problem. But I think if we’re going to fix it, we have to fix all of it — not just the most obvious outcomes.

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