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Affirmative Action in Law School Admissions: What Do Racial Preferences Do?

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  • Jesse Rothstein
  • Albert H. Yoon

Abstract

The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that race-based preferences in public university admissions are constitutional. But debates over the wisdom of affirmative action continue. Opponents of these policies argue that preferences are detrimental to minority students -- that by placing these students in environments that are too competitive, affirmative action hurts their academic and career outcomes. This article examines the so-called "mismatch" hypothesis in the context of law school admissions. We discuss the existing scholarship on mismatch, identifying methodological limitations of earlier attempts to measure the effects of affirmative action. Using a simpler, more robust analytical strategy, we find that the data are inconsistent with large mismatch effects, particularly with respect to employment outcomes. While moderate mismatch effects are possible, they are concentrated among the students with the weakest entering academic credentials. To put our estimates in context, we simulate admissions under race-blind rules. Eliminating affirmative action would dramatically reduce the number of black law students, particularly at the most selective schools. Many potentially successful black law students would be excluded, far more than the number who would be induced to pass the bar exam by the elimination of mismatch effects. Accordingly, we find that eliminating affirmative action would dramatically reduce the production of black lawyers.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14276 Note: CH ED LE LS
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Jesse Rothstein & Albert Yoon, 2006. "Mismatch in Law School," Working Papers 79, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    4. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner & Danny Yagan, 2017. "Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility," Working Papers 2017-059, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    5. Yagan, Danny, 2016. "Supply vs. demand under an affirmative action ban: Estimates from UC law schools," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 38-50.
    6. Surendrakumar Bagde & Dennis Epple & Lowell Taylor, 2016. "Does Affirmative Action Work? Caste, Gender, College Quality, and Academic Success in India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(6), pages 1495-1521, June.
    7. Peter Arcidiacono & Esteban Aucejo & Patrick Coate & V. Joseph Hotz, 2012. "Affirmative Action and University Fit: Evidence from Proposition 209," NBER Working Papers 18523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. 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.
    9. 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].
    10. Christopher Cotton & Brent R. Hickman & Joseph P. Price, 2014. "Affirmative Action and Human Capital Investment: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 20397, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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.
    12. Peter Arcidiacono & Michael Lovenheim, 2016. "Affirmative Action and the Quality-Fit Trade-Off," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 54(1), pages 3-51, March.
    13. Christopher Cotton & Brent R. Hickman & Joseph P. Price, 2016. "Affirmative Action and Human Capital Investment: Theory and Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment," Working Papers 1350, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
    14. Hinrichs, Peter, 2014. "Affirmative action bans and college graduation rates," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 43-52.
    15. Andrew M. Francis & Maria Tannuri-Pianto, 2012. "Using Brazil’s Racial Continuum to Examine the Short-Term Effects of Affirmative Action in Higher Education," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 47(3), pages 754-784.

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    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • K30 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - General

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