Assessing Affirmative Action

Harry Holzer, David Neumark

NBER Working Paper No. 7323
Issued in August 1999
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

Although the debate over Affirmative Action is both high-profile and high-intensity, neither side's position is based on a well-established set of research findings. Economics provides an extensive, well-known literature on which to draw regarding the existence and extent of labor market discrimination against women and minorities, although views may often conflict, and a less extensive but also well-known literature on the effects of Affirmative Action on the employment of women or minorities. However, research by economists provides much less evidence and even less of a consensus on the question of whether Affirmative Action improves or impedes efficiency or performance, which is perhaps the key economic issue in the debate over Affirmative Action. This review focuses on all of these issues regarding Affirmative Action, but the major focus is on the efficiency/performance question. All in all, the evidence suggests to us that it may be possible to generate Affirmative Action programs that entail relatively little sacrifice of efficiency. Most importantly, there is at this juncture very little compelling evidence of deleterious efficiency effects of Affirmative Action. This does not imply that such costs do not exist, nor that the studies we review have captured the overall welfare effects of Affirmative Action. It does imply, though, that the empirical case against Affirmative Action on the grounds of efficiency is weak at best.

download in pdf format
   (946 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7323

Published: Holzer, Harry and David Neumark. "Assessing Affirmative Action," Journal of Economic Literature, 2000, v38(3,Sep), 483-568. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Holzer and Neumark w6605 What Does Affirmative Action Do?
Fryer, Loury, and Yuret w10103 Color-Blind Affirmative Action
Blanchflower and Wainwright w11793 An Analysis of the Impact of Affirmative Action Programs on Self-Employment in the Construction Industry
Leonard w1240 Anti-Discrimination or Reverse Discrimination: The Impact of Changing Demographics, Title VII and Affirmative Action on Productivity
Fryer and Loury w11464 Affirmative Action and Its Mythology
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us