Gender Bias in Asylum Adjudications: Evidence for Leniency toward Token Women
Gender is one of the most frequently studied variables in the literature on judicial decision-making. We add to this literature by hypothesizing that the impact of applicant gender is conditional on the gender balance in a judge’s caseload. We expect that female applicants receive more favorable decisions from judges whose caseload skews strongly male. Analyzing over 40,000 rulings by the Austrian Asylum Court between 2008 and 2013, we find support for direct gender effects for applicants and judges (yet no significant interaction between the two). We also show that gender balance in the caseload is a strong moderator of applicant gender. Judges with predominantly male caseloads are strongly biased toward female applicants, whereas judges facing a gender-balanced set of applicants display hardly any gender bias at all. These findings tackle essential questions of democratic rule of law and human rights. They indicate that applicants’ fundamental rights to a fair and equal trial may have been compromised. We discuss institutional remedies to reduce the potential for gender bias in Austrian asylum adjudication.
KeywordsPolitical asylum Asylum seeking Gender gap Gender equality Adjudication Human rights Sexism
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the ECPR General Conference, September 6-9, 2017, University of Oslo (Norway), and at the Conference of Empirical Legal Studies Europe (CELSE), May 31-June 1, University of Leuven (Belgium). Alejandro Ecker gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) (grant P25490-G22). The authors thank Gerhard Muzak (Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law, University of Vienna) for providing useful background information as to the workings of the Austrian Asylum Court, and Michael Imre for valuable research assistance.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The research did not involve human participants nor animals.
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