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An Economic Analysis of Color-Blind Affirmative Action


  • Tolga Yuret


This article offers an economic analysis of color-blind alternatives to conventional affirmative action policies in higher education, focusing on efficiency issues. When the distribution of applicants' traits is fixed (i.e., in the short-run) color blindness leads colleges to shift weight from academic traits that predict performance to social traits that proxy for race. Using data on matriculates at several selective colleges and universities, we estimate that the short-run efficiency cost of "blind" relative to "sighted" affirmative action is comparable to the cost colleges would incur were they to ignore standardized test scores when deciding on admissions. We then build a model of applicant competition with endogenous effort in order to study long-run incentive effects. We show that, compared to the sighted alternative, color-blind affirmative action is inefficient because it flattens the function mapping effort into a probability of admission in the model's equilibrium. "Implementing race-neutral programs will help educational institutions minimize litigation risks they currently face… . If we are persistent in implementing race-neutral approaches, the end result will be to fulfill the great words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dreamed of the day that all children will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin."--US Department of Education. Race-Neutral Alternatives in Postsecondary Education: Innovative Approaches to Diversity , Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights March 2003, pp. 7, 40. The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Yale University. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:24:y:2008:i:2:p:319-355

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    Cited by:

    1. Krishna, Kala & Tarasov, Alexander, 2013. "Affirmative Action: One Size Does Not Fit All," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 407, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    2. Dario Cestau & Dennis Epple & Holger Sieg, 2017. "Admitting Students to Selective Education Programs: Merit, Profiling, and Affirmative Action," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(3), pages 761-797.
    3. Kangoh Lee, 2015. "Higher education expansion, tracking, and student effort," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 114(1), pages 1-22, January.
    4. 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.
    5. Thomas Gall & Patrick Legros & Andrew Newman, 2015. "College Diversity and Investment Incentives," Working Papers 2015-001, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    6. Tolga Yuret, 2016. "Students Trapped in the Centralized University Admissions System," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 36(1), pages 522-527.
    7. Nick Feltovich & Lata Gangadharan & Michael P. Kidd, 2013. "Implementation and Removal of an Affirmative-Action Quota: The Impact on Task Assignment and Workers' Skill Acquisition," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 39(s1), pages 123-140, May.
    8. Roland G. Fryer, Jr., 2009. "Implicit Quotas," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 1-20, January.
    9. Glenn Ellison & Parag A. Pathak, 2016. "The Efficiency of Race-Neutral Alternatives to Race-Based Affirmative Action: Evidence from Chicago's Exam Schools," NBER Working Papers 22589, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. repec:eee:pubeco:v:155:y:2017:i:c:p:164-178 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Dennis Epple & Richard Romano & Sinan Sarpça & Holger Sieg, 2013. "The U.S. Market for Higher Education: A General Equilibrium Analysis of State and Private Colleges and Public Funding Policies," NBER Working Papers 19298, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Hinrichs, Peter, 2014. "Affirmative action bans and college graduation rates," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 43-52.
    13. Prasad Krishnamurthy & Aaron Edlin, 2014. "Affirmative Action and Stereotypes in Higher Education Admissions," NBER Working Papers 20629, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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