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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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Bibliographic Info

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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Publication status: published as Bertrand, Marianne & Hanna, Rema & Mullainathan, Sendhil, 2010. "Affirmative action in education: Evidence from engineering college admissions in India," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1-2), pages 16-29, February.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13926

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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  4. David Neumark & Harry Holzer, 2000. "Assessing Affirmative Action," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(3), pages 483-568, September.
  5. Jonathan S. Leonard, 1984. "Affirmative Action as Earnings Redistribution: The Targeting of Compliance Reviews," NBER Working Papers 1328, 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. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Loury, Linda Datcher & Garman, David, 1993. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 99-103, May.
  10. 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.
  11. Jesse Rothstein & Albert Yoon, 2006. "Mismatch in Law School," Working Papers 79, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  12. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. 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).
  2. Prakash, Nishith, 2009. "Improving the Labor Market Outcomes of Minorities: The Role of Employment Quota," IZA Discussion Papers 4386, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Aimee Chin & Nishith Prakash, 2010. "The Redistributive Effects of Political Reservation for Minorities: Evidence from India," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1003, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  4. Kumar, Sunil Mitra, 2013. "Does Access to Formal Agricultural Credit Depend on Caste?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 315-328.
  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. Matthew P. Steinberg, 2014. "Does Greater Autonomy Improve School Performance? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Analysis in Chicago," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-35, January.
  7. 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].
  8. Azam, Mehtabul, 2009. "A Distributional Analysis of Social Group Inequality in Rural India," IZA Discussion Papers 3973, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Alon, Sigal & Malamud, Ofer, 2014. "The impact of Israel's class-based affirmative action policy on admission and academic outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 123-139.
  10. World Bank, 2011. "Perspectives on Poverty in India : Stylized Facts from Survey Data," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2299, October.
  11. 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.

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