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Explicit vs. Statistical Preferential Treatment in Affirmative Action: Theory and Evidence from Chicago’s Exam Schools

Author

Listed:
  • Umut Mert Dur

    () (North Carolina State University)

  • Parag A. Pathak

    (MIT)

  • Tayfun Sönmez

    () (Boston College)

Abstract

Affirmative action schemes must confront the tension between admitting the highest scoring applicants and ensuring diversity. In Chicago’s affirmative action system for exam schools, applicants are divided into one of four socioeconomic tiers based on the characteristics of their neighborhood. Applicants can be admitted to a school either through a slot reserved for their tier or through a merit slot. Equity considerations motivate equal percentage reserves for each tier, but there is a large debate on the total size of these reserve slots relative to merit slots. An issue that has received much less attention is the order in which slots are processed. Since the competition for merit slots is influenced directly by the allocation to tier slots, equal size reserves are not sufficient to eliminate explicit preferential treatment. We characterize processing rules that are tier-blind. While explicit preferential treatment is ruled out under tier-blind rules, it is still possible to favor certain tiers, by ex- ploiting the distribution of scores across tiers, a phenomenon we call statistical preferential treatment. We characterize the processing order that is optimal for the most disadvantaged tier assuming that these applicants systematically have lower scores. This policy processes merit slots prior to any slots reserved for tiers. Our main result implies that Chicago has been providing an additional boost to the disadvantaged tier beyond their reserved slots. Using data from Chicago, we show that the bias due to processing order for the disadvantaged tier is comparable to that from the 2012 decrease in the size of the merit reserve.

Suggested Citation

  • Umut Mert Dur & Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez, 2016. "Explicit vs. Statistical Preferential Treatment in Affirmative Action: Theory and Evidence from Chicago’s Exam Schools," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 906, Boston College Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:906
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez, 2013. "School Admissions Reform in Chicago and England: Comparing Mechanisms by Their Vulnerability to Manipulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 80-106, February.
    2. Cortes, Kalena E., 2010. "Do bans on affirmative action hurt minority students? Evidence from the Texas Top 10% Plan," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 1110-1124, December.
    3. Kominers, Scott Duke & Sönmez, Tayfun, 2016. "Matching with slot-specific priorities: theory," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 11(2), May.
    4. Ehlers, Lars & Hafalir, Isa E. & Yenmez, M. Bumin & Yildirim, Muhammed A., 2014. "School choice with controlled choice constraints: Hard bounds versus soft bounds," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 648-683.
    5. Atila Abdulkadiro?lu & Yeon-Koo Che & Yosuke Yasuda, 2015. "Expanding "Choice" in School Choice," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(1), pages 1-42, February.
    6. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Tayfun Sönmez, 2003. "School Choice: A Mechanism Design Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(3), pages 729-747, June.
    7. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun Sönmez, 2005. "The Boston Public School Match," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 368-371, May.
    8. Umut M. Dur & Scott Duke Kominers & Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez, 2013. "The Demise of Walk Zones in Boston: Priorities vs. Precedence in School Choice," NBER Working Papers 18981, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Balinski, Michel & Sonmez, Tayfun, 1999. "A Tale of Two Mechanisms: Student Placement," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 73-94, January.
    10. Cortes, Kalena E., 2010. "Do Bans on Affirmative Action Hurt Minority Students? Evidence from the Texas Top 10% Plan," IZA Discussion Papers 5021, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sonmez, 2008. "Leveling the Playing Field: Sincere and Sophisticated Players in the Boston Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1636-1652, September.
    12. Hafalir, Isa Emin & Yenmez, M. Bumin & Yildirim, Muhammed Ali, 2013. "Effective affirmative action in school choice," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 8(2), May.
    13. Kalena E. Cortes, 2010. "Do Bans on Affirmative Action Hurt Minority Students? Evidence from the Texas Top 10% Plan," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 10-168, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    14. Federico Echenique & M. Bumin Yenmez, 2015. "How to Control Controlled School Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2679-2694, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:wly:emetrp:v:85:y:2017:i::p:1373-1432 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Joshua D. Angrist & Yusuke Narita & Parag A. Pathak, 2017. "Research Design Meets Market Design: Using Centralized Assignment for Impact Evaluation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 85, pages 1373-1432, September.
    3. repec:the:publsh:2717 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    School Choice; Affirmative Action;

    JEL classification:

    • D47 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Market Design

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