Skip to main content

Affirmative Action and Racial Segregation


Prior research suggests that statewide affirmative action bans reduce minority enrollment at selective colleges while leaving overall minority college enrollment unchanged. However, the effect of these bans on across-college racial segregation has not yet been estimated. This effect is theoretically ambiguous due to a U-shaped relationship across colleges between minority enrollment and college selectivity. This paper uses variation in the timing of affirmative action bans across states to estimate their effects on racial segregation as measured by standard exposure and dissimilarity indexes, finding that affirmative action bans have increased segregation across colleges in some cases but reduced it in others. In particular, early affirmative action bans in states with highly selective public universities appear to be associated with less segregation, whereas more recent affirmative action bans appear to be associated with more segregation.

Keywords: affirmative action, college admissions, higher education, segregation.
JEL Classification: I24, I28, J15.


Suggested citation: Hinrichs, Peter. 2019. “Affirmative Action and Racial Segregation.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper no. 16-36r. https://doi.org/10.26509/frbc-wp-201636r.

Upcoming EventsSEE ALL