Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

13

Affirmative action and career accomplishments in the US

An ultimate judgment about the consequences of affirmative action (AA) in higher education cannot be rendered without consideration of the long-run effects of AA on the careers of its beneficiaries. Evidence on career accomplishments is thus critical; but it is also the hardest to gather. In this chapter I first compile what evidence is available from the US on the accomplishments of under-represented ethnic group (UREG) and non-UREG students after their undergraduate or graduate studies. Next I focus on evidence regarding the effect of college/university selectivity on student long-term career success. Then I address a number of questions that have been raised about the validity of research findings suggesting that US AA beneficiaries have on the whole been successful in their studies and in their careers.


UREG and non-UREG career accomplishments

Studies designed explicitly to shed light on the long-term consequences of AA in higher educational admissions are of relatively recent vintage. For a long time, however, researchers have addressed the issue of the long-run economic returns to education. Some of these studies shed light on an issue of importance to the debate over AA: the comparative returns to education for Blacks and Whites.

One of the earliest studies directed at precisely this issue was that of Hoffman (1984), who concluded that the relative income returns to a Bachelor's degree for Black men were significantly higher than those for White men in the 1970s. Duncan and Hoffman (1984) and Smith and Welch (1986) reached similar conclusions. In a more recent and widely cited study utilizing data from the 1980s, Bound and Freeman (1992) found evidence of generally higher returns to education for Blacks than for Whites. Pascarella and Terenzini (1991:506-8) summarize the consensus as follows:

[I]t would appear that in terms of occupational status, nonwhite or black men derive somewhat greater relative benefits from a bachelor's degree than do white men. The evidence on earnings is less consistent but suggests that since about 1970 nonwhite or black men may also be

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