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The Demographic Mismatch In Law School Grading

If you’re looking to score an A in law school, it may help to look like your professor.

New research suggests that there’s a “demographic mismatch” when it comes to law school course grades.

The paper finds that first-year students are 3% less likely to receive an “A” or

“A minus” when their professor is the opposite sex. If you’re a different race from your professor, you’re 10% less likely. The “demographic mismatch” effect is most evident in nonwhite female students, according to the report.

“While the precise mechanisms through which student-instructor demographic mismatch affects students’ educational outcomes are not known, it is generally thought that role model effects, stereotype threat, and information provision play prominent roles in this phenomenon,” the researchers write. “Moreover, it is often, either implicitly or explicitly, assumed that relatively young, inexperienced, socio-economically disadvantaged, and information-poor students are particularly susceptible to the deleterious effects of student-instructor demographic mismatch.”

Methodology

The study is based off of data analysis of a private, top 100 US-ranked law school located in a major urban city. According to the report, the anonymous law school enrolls roughly 1,000 students, on average. Its student body is majority female, almost 40% non-white, and includes students from nearly every US state making it one of the most demographically and geographically diverse top ranked law schools.

Elite Schools Not Immune To Demographic Mismatch

Another finding is that demographic mismatch spans the entire education lifecycle.

“It is remarkable that the same harmful effects of mismatch observed among relatively vulnerable populations of primary school, community college, and first-year college students are observed in an elite law school setting, given the successes and experiences necessary for admission to a top-100 law school,” the researchers write.

These findings could contribute to other negative effects further down the career, the researchers suggest. For example, the result of demographic mismatch may have the potential to translate to pay gaps among early-career law professionals, as previous research has found.

“A lack of representation among law school faculty and/or how law school faculty interact with and mentor women and students of color can cause sorting into specializations and other behavioral responses that affect prestige, pay, and upward mobility,” the researchers write.

One solution the researchers offer to combat demographic mismatch is having more diverse faculty.

“These results suggest that diversity in the legal profession, and the status of women and people of color in the legal profession, would be improved by increasing the diversity of law school faculty,” according to the report. “However, whether and how these results would generalize to other law schools, particularly those with less diverse student and faculty populations, remains an open question worthy of future exploration.”

The paper, “Stereotype Threat, Role Models, and Demographic Mismatch in an Elite Professional School Setting,” was published on July 31, 2018 by Christopher Birdsall (Boise State University), Seth Gershenson (American University), and Raymond Zuniga (Virginia Tech).

Sources: Stereotype Threat, Role Models, and Demographic Mismatch in an Elite Professional School Setting, Firm/Employee Matching: An Industry Study of U.S. Lawyers, Law.com