Alejandro Ecker, Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, Martin Haselmayer
Gender Bias in Asylum Adjudications: Evidence for Leniency toward Token Women

Sex Roles: a Journal of Research, 2020: 82, issue 1, pp. 117-126
ISSN: 0360-0025 (print); 1573-2762 (online)

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.