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Affirmative Action: One Size Does Not Fit All


  • Kala Krishna
  • Alexander Tarasov


This paper identifies a new reason for giving preferences to the disadvantaged using a model of contests. There are two forces at work: the effort effect working against giving preferences and the selection effect working in favor of them. When education is costly and easy to obtain (as in the United States), the selection effect dominates. When education is heavily subsidized and limited in supply (as in India), preferences are welfare reducing. The model also shows that unequal treatment of identical agents can be welfare improving, providing insights into when the counterintuitive policy of rationing educational access to some subgroups is welfare improving. (JEL H52, H75, I23, I28, J15, O15)

Suggested Citation

  • Kala Krishna & Alexander Tarasov, 2016. "Affirmative Action: One Size Does Not Fit All," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 215-252, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmic:v:8:y:2016:i:2:p:215-52 Note: DOI: 10.1257/mic.20140200

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Moro, Andrea & Norman, Peter, 2003. "Affirmative action in a competitive economy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(3-4), pages 567-594, March.
    2. Lance Lochner & Alexander Monge-Naranjo, 2012. "Credit Constraints in Education," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 4(1), pages 225-256, July.
    3. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-661, September.
    4. Jesse Rothstein & Albert H. Yoon, 2007. "Affirmative Action in Law School Admissions: What Do Racial Preferences Do?," Working Papers 20, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Education Research Section..
    5. Jimmy Chan & Erik Eyster, 2003. "Does Banning Affirmative Action Lower College Student Quality?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 858-872, June.
    6. Andrea Moro, 2003. "The Effect Of Statistical Discrimination On Black-White Wage Inequality: Estimating A Model With Multiple Equilibria," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 44(2), pages 467-500, May.
    7. Hector Chade & Gregory Lewis & Lones Smith, 2014. "Student Portfolios and the College Admissions Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(3), pages 971-1002.
    8. Loury, Linda Datcher & Garman, David, 1993. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 99-103, May.
    9. Raquel Fernández & Jordi Gali, 1999. "To Each According to …? Markets, Tournaments, and the Matching Problem with Borrowing Constraints," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(4), pages 799-824.
    10. Verónica C. Frisancho Robles & Kala Krishna, 2012. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education in India: Targeting, Catch Up, and Mismatch," NBER Working Papers 17727, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Roland Fryer & Glenn Loury, 2005. "Affirmative action in winner-take-all markets," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 3(3), pages 263-280, December.
    12. James Fain, 2009. "Affirmative Action Can Increase Effort," Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, Springer;Society for Economic Science with Heterogeneous Interacting Agents, vol. 30(2), pages 168-175, June.
    13. Roland Fryer & Glenn C. Loury & Tolga Yuret, 2003. "Color-Blind Affirmative Action," NBER Working Papers 10103, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Qiang Fu, 2006. "A Theory of Affirmative Action in College Admissions," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 44(3), pages 420-428, July.
    15. Tolga Yuret, 2008. "An Economic Analysis of Color-Blind Affirmative Action," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 319-355, October.
    16. Peter Arcidiacono & Esteban Aucejo & Ken Spenner, 2012. "What happens after enrollment? An analysis of the time path of racial differences in GPA and major choice," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 1(1), pages 1-24, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Akyol, Pelin & Krishna, Kala, 2017. "Preferences, selection, and value added: A structural approach," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 89-117.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration


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