Women and men policymakers: Does the judge's gender affect the sentencing of criminal defendants?

Darrell Steffensmeier, Chris Hebert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


In this study we compare the sentencing decisions of women and men judges to assess whether they impose similar sentences on criminal defendants and whether they use the same criteria and give the same weight to characteristics of a case when arriving at a decision. The data include detailed information on case and judge characteristics, cover a large number of cases, and involve a fairly sizable number of female and male judges. Besides their relevance for understanding judicial decision making and women in politics, the data are exceptionally well suited for addressing the recurrent social science inquiry into whether a policymaker's individual characteristics or organizational role has a greater influence on decision making as well as the current debate between "minimalist" and "maximalist" views of gender differences. Our results - based on additive and interactive models - indicate many similarities but some differences between women and men judges in their sentencing practices. Women judges are somewhat harsher (i.e., more likely to incarcerate and impose longer sentences), and they slant toward a more contextualized style in weighing the effects of defendant characteristics and prior record on sentencing outcomes. Notably, they are particularly harsh toward repeat black offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1163-1196
Number of pages34
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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