Thursday, December 1, 2022
Gender Gaps in Legal Education and the Impact of Class Participation Assessments
Kenneth Khoo & Jaclyn Neo, Gender Gaps in Legal Education: The Impact of Class Participation Assessments
The gender gap is a well-studied phenomenon in education policy. While prior research has illustrated the presence of this gap in U.S. Law Schools, questions remain as to whether these findings are generalizable to other jurisdictions where national, cultural, historical, institutional and societal norms are substantially different. In this article, we investigate the presence and nature of a gender gap in one of Asia’s leading law schools, the National University of Singapore (“NUS Law”). Employing a novel dataset with granular data on student, instructor, course, and component characteristics, we provide evidence that the gender gap persists over numerous cohorts of students. Even after controlling for a wide range of covariates such as standardized entry scores, high school rankings, income proxies, and a large array of fixed effects, female students systemically underperform their male counterparts across numerous metrics of law school performance. To examine the plausibility of possible causal mechanisms behind the gender gap, we exploit a natural experiment in which NUS Law randomly assigned first and second-year students to a range of mandatory courses with different class participation assessment weights. We provide evidence that female students who were assigned to courses with larger class participation weights had relatively lower class participation scores when compared to male students. Remarkably, however, policies that permitted female students to choose their courses in their third and fourth years eliminated this negative relationship – even after accounting for heterogeneity across class sizes and course choices. Our work suggests that pedagogical policy should consider the relationship between assessment modes and female student autonomy in narrowing the gender gap in legal education.