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Affirmative Action and Racial Segregation


A number of states have recently prohibited the use of affirmative action in admissions to public universities statewide. A growing body of research suggests that these affirmative action bans reduce minority enrollment at selective colleges while leaving overall minority college enrollment rates unchanged. The effect of these bans on racial segregation across colleges has not yet been estimated directly and is theoretically ambiguous due to a U-shaped relationship 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 exposure and dissimilarity indexes. The results suggest that affirmative action bans have in some cases increased segregation across colleges but in others cases may have actually reduced it. In particular, early affirmative action bans in states with highly selective public universities appear to be associated with more segregation, whereas other affirmative action bans appear to be associated with less segregation.

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


Suggested citation: Hinrichs, Peter, “Affirmative Action and Racial Segregation,” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper no. 16-36.

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