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Affirmative Action in Education: Evidence From Engineering College Admissions in India

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  • Marianne Bertrand
  • Rema Hanna
  • Sendhil Mullainathan

Abstract

Many countries mandate affirmative action in university admissions for traditionally disadvantaged groups. Little is known about either the efficacy or costs of these programs. This paper examines affirmative action in engineering colleges in India for "lower-caste" groups. We find that it successfully targets the financially disadvantaged: the marginal upper-caste applicant comes from a more advantaged background than the marginal lower-caste applicant who displaces him. Despite much lower entrance exam scores, the marginal lower-caste entrant does benefit: we find a strong, positive economic return to admission. These findings contradict common arguments against affirmative action: that it is only relevant for richer lower-caste members, or that those who are admitted are too unprepared to benefit from the education. However, these benefits come at a cost. Our point estimates suggest that the marginal upper-caste entrant enjoys nearly twice the earnings level gain as the marginal lower-caste entrant. This finding illustrates the program's redistributive nature: it benefits the poor, but costs resources in absolute terms. One reason for this lower level gain is that a smaller fraction of lower-caste admits end up employed in engineering or advanced technical jobs. Finally, we find no evidence that the marginal upper-caste applicant who is rejected due to the policy ends up with more negative attitudes towards lower castes or towards affirmative action programs. On the other hand, there is some weak evidence that the marginal lower-caste admits become stronger supporters of affirmative action programs.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13926.

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Date of creation: Apr 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13926

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  1. John Fitzgerald & Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 1998. "An Analysis of Sample Attrition in Panel Data: The Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics," NBER Technical Working Papers 0220, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. David Card & Alexandre Mas & Jesse Rothstein, 2008. "Tipping and the Dynamics of Segregation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(1), pages 177-218, 02.
  3. Harry Holzer & David Neumark, 1999. "Assessing Affirmative Action," NBER Working Papers 7323, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Roland G. Freyer, Jr. & Glenn C. Loury & Tolga Yuret, 2003. "Color Blind Affirmative Action," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-131, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  5. Jesse Rothstein & Albert Yoon, 2008. "Mismatch in Law School," NBER Working Papers 14275, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Osborne, Evan, 2001. "Culture, Development, and Government: Reservations in India," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(3), pages 659-85, April.
  7. Peter Arcidiacono, 2005. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education: How Do Admission and Financial Aid Rules Affect Future Earnings?," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(5), pages 1477-1524, 09.
  8. Falaris, Evangelos M., 2003. "The effect of survey attrition in longitudinal surveys: evidence from Peru, Cote d'Ivoire and Vietnam," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 133-157, February.
  9. Jonathan S. Leonard, 1984. "Affirmative Action as Earnings Redistribution: The Targeting of Compliance Reviews," NBER Working Papers 1328, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Loury, Linda Datcher & Garman, David, 1993. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 99-103, May.
  11. Jesse Rothstein & Albert H. Yoon, 2008. "Affirmative Action in Law School Admissions: What Do Racial Preferences Do?," NBER Working Papers 14276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Kaivan Munshi & Mark Rosenzweig, 2006. "Traditional Institutions Meet the Modern World: Caste, Gender, and Schooling Choice in a Globalizing Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1225-1252, September.
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Cited by:
  1. World Bank, 2011. "Perspectives on Poverty in India : Stylized Facts from Survey Data," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2299, January.
  2. Azam, Mehtabul, 2009. "A Distributional Analysis of Social Group Inequality in Rural India," IZA Discussion Papers 3973, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Maria Eduarda Tannuri Pianto & Andrew Francis, 2011. "The Redistributive Efficacy Ofaffirmative Action: Exploring The Role Of Race And Socioeconomic Statusin College Admissions," Anais do XXXVIII Encontro Nacional de Economia [Proceedings of the 38th Brazilian Economics Meeting] 218, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pósgraduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics].
  4. Chin, Aimee & Prakash, Nishith, 2011. "The redistributive effects of political reservation for minorities: Evidence from India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 265-277, November.
  5. Azam, Mehtabul & Prakash, Nishith, 2010. "A Distributional Analysis of the Public-Private Wage Differential in India," IZA Discussion Papers 5132, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Klasen, Stephan & Pieters, Janneke, 2013. "What Explains the Stagnation of Female Labor Force Participation in Urban India?," IZA Discussion Papers 7597, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Francis, Andrew M. & Tannuri-Pianto, Maria, 2012. "The redistributive equity of affirmative action: Exploring the role of race, socioeconomic status, and gender in college admissions," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 45-55.
  8. Kumar, Sunil Mitra, 2013. "Does Access to Formal Agricultural Credit Depend on Caste?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 315-328.

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