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Affirmative Action in Higher Education in India: Targeting, Catch Up, and Mismatch


  • Verónica C. Frisancho Robles
  • Kala Krishna


Affirmative action policies in higher education are used in many countries to try to socially advance historically disadvantaged minorities. Although the underlying social objectives of these policies are rarely criticized, there is intense debate over the actual impact of such preferences in higher education on educational performance and labor outcomes. Most of the work uses U.S. data where clean performance indicators are hard to find. Using a remarkably detailed dataset on the 2008 graduating class from an elite engineering institution (EEI) in India we evaluate the impact of affirmative action policies in higher education on minority students focusing on three central issues in the current debate: targeting, catch up, and mismatch. In addition, we present preliminary evidence on labor market discrimination. We find that admission preferences effectively target minority students who are poorer than the average displaced non-minority student. Moreover, by analyzing the college performance of minority and non-minority students as they progress through college, we find that scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students, especially those in more selective majors, fall behind their same-major peers which is the opposite of catching up. We also identify evidence in favor of the mismatch hypothesis: once we control for selection into majors, minority students who enrol in more selective majors as a consequence of admission preferences end up earning less than if they would have had if they had chosen a less selective major. Finally, although there is no evidence of discrimination against minority students in terms of wages, we find that scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students are more likely to get worse jobs, even after controlling for selection.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17727
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Jonathan Guryan, 2011. "Studying Discrimination: Fundamental Challenges and Recent Progress," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 3(1), pages 479-511, 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, September.
    3. Loury, Linda Datcher & Garman, David, 1995. "College Selectivity and Earnings," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 289-308, April.
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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. Frisancho, Veronica & Krishna, Kala & Lychagin, Sergey & Yavas, Cemile, 2016. "Better luck next time: Learning through retaking," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 120-135.
    3. Freund, Caroline & Pierola, Denisse, 2016. "The Origin and Dynamics of Export Superstars," CEPR Discussion Papers 11687, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Matteo Bobba & Verónica Frisancho, 2016. "Learning about Oneself: The Effects of Performance Feedback on School Choice," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 7968, Inter-American Development Bank.
    5. Akyol, Pelin & Krishna, Kala, 2017. "Preferences, selection, and value added: A structural approach," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 89-117.
    6. S. Pelin Akyol & Verónica Frisancho & Kala M. Krishna & Cemile Yavas, 2013. "Preferences, Selection, and Value Added: A Structural Approach Applied to Turkish Exam High Schools," CESifo Working Paper Series 4302, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. 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.
    8. Deshpande, Ashwini & Weisskopf, Thomas E., 2014. "Does Affirmative Action Reduce Productivity? A Case Study of the Indian Railways," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 169-180.
    9. repec:spr:soinre:v:132:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1311-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Bobba, Matteo & Frisancho, Veronica, 2016. "Learning about Oneself: The Effects of Performance Feedback on School Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 10360, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Richard Murphy & Felix Weinhardt, 2013. "The Importance of Rank Position," CEP Discussion Papers dp1241, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination

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