Women with male names do better in legal careers: study

13:58, November 03, 2009      

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What's in a name? A lot if you're seeking a legal career, with a U.S. study finding that women with male names are more successful lawyers and judges than those with more traditional, feminine names.

The study, led by economist Bentley Coffey of Clemson University in South Carolina, looked at the relationship between a person's success in the legal profession, and their ultimately becoming a judge, and how masculine their name is.

The study found by hypothesizing and using a series of equations that a female "Cameron" is about three times more likely to become a judge than a "Sue," while a female "Bruce" is five times more likely.

"Despite the fact that women made up half of the students graduating from law school in the past 15 years, the legal profession remains a male-dominated world," Coffey wrote.

"Consequentially, one would suspect that having a male persona or male moniker might still be advantageous to a career in law."

Coffey and his team used data from the voting population of South Carolina state to test the so-called "Portia Hypothesis."

The thesis is named after Shakespeare's play, "The Merchant of Venice," in which the heiress Portia masquerades as a male lawyer to argue before a judge the case of her husband's friend Antonio, saving him for the moneylender Shylock.

"The first female lawyer in South Carolina had a masculine name and today many female lawyers privately express their belief that their nominal masculinity matters," the study said.

It listed other factors that could contribute to the advancement of women with male names, including the small number of females in law firms in several parts of the United States and that more voters prefer men to women when casting their ballots for judicial positions.

"Jurists, clients, superiors, professors, legislators, might just feel more comfortable with a woman called "George" than one called "Barbara,"" the study said.

"In the context of the "good old boy network," which is alive and well in the legal profession a woman with a male moniker might just feel more like one of the boys."

Coffey told Reuters that his research has also affected him personally -- he gave one of his twin daughters a traditionally masculine name and the other a traditionally feminine name. And initial results from a follow-on study show that women with male names are more likely to make more money than their more femininely named counterparts, Coffey said.

Source: China Daily/Agencies
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