Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 3 No. 1 (Winter 1989)


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Women and Affirmative Action

Article Citation

Leonard, Jonathan S. 1989. "Women and Affirmative Action." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 3(1): 61-75.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.3.1.61


This paper reviews evidence indicating that, as it has been enforced so far, affirmative action has contributed negligibly to women's progress in the workplace. Affirmative action can be modeled as a tax on employers whose female employment growth falls below a certain rate. Clearly, if labor supply shifts result in female employment growth greater than the regulatory standard, the tax constraint will not be binding. As we shall see, this may help explain an affirmative action program that is generally ineffective for women, although it has been effective for minorities. Federal anti-bias policies in general, and the system of affirmative action goals in particular, have been accused of instituting employment quotas. This paper reviews evidence on the homogenization of the workplace predicted by the quota theory, as well as considering more direct evidence on whether affirmative action goals are really quotas in lambs' clothing. I shall also review the slim evidence on the most fundamental and controversial criticism of affirmative action: that rather than reducing discrimination against women and minorities, it has induced discrimination against white males. A new methodology employing direct productivity measures rather than the traditional but limited wage equation residuals proves useful in exploring this issue.

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Leonard, Jonathan S. (Unlisted)

JEL Classifications

917: Economics of Minorities; Economics of Discrimination
826: Labor Markets: Demographic Characteristics


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