Sonia Sotomayor and the Economics of Gender

President Obama's Supreme Court pick Sonia Sotomayor has stirred the controversy pot with some of her statements about race and gender. In 2001 she said: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." This has the powers that be and the punditocracy in quite the wrangle over who's being racist, reverse-racist, sideways-racist and the like.

But more interesting to me is the question Sotomayor's comment raises: How does experience, gender in particular, impact political judgment?

Via Economix I see this study found that having a daughter makes parents "two percentage points" more liberal, while having a son moves parents two notches to the right. Why does that make any sense? The authors explain:

The authors theorize that the political influences children have on their parents may be due to "male" and "female" economic policies. Women experience pay discrimination. Women are also, the authors say, more likely than men to benefit from, and support, activist government in the form of greater public services.

Men bear a relatively greater share of the steeper tax rates needed for those additional public services. Having children of the opposite sex may make parents more sympathetic to the opposite sex's stake in the matter: Having daughters may make fathers more sympathetic to higher tax proposals that would enable provisions of more public services, and having sons makes mothers more sensitive to the fact that men would bear the brunt of these higher tax rates necessary to provide more services.

But, you might ask, what does this have to do with Sotomayor, who has no children? The moral of the study is not that boys cast soft conservative spells on their parents, but that experience -- in ways that are unexpected, but logical from an economic standpoint -- can and does color perspective. Conservative fathers who have a bevy of daughters are likely to be more than commonly sympathetic to issues that effect them. So when Sotomayor says things like this -- "I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage" -- it's very easy to label her an scourge of identity politics, but it's more accurate to call her self-assessment honest.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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