Affirmative Action and the Occupational Advancement of Minorities and Women During 1973–2003

34 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2012

Date Written: April 2012


The share of minorities and women comprising high‐paying skilled occupations such as management, professional, and technical occupations has been increasing since the 1960s, while the proportion of white men in such occupations has been declining. What has been the contribution of affirmative action to the occupational advancement of minorities and women from low‐wage unskilled occupations into high‐wage skilled ones in U.S. firms? I examine this by comparing the occupational position of minorities and women at firms holding federal contracts, and thereby mandated to implement affirmative action, and noncontracting firms, over the course of 31 years during 1973–2003. I use a new longitudinal dataset of over 100,000 large private‐sector firms across all industries and regions uniquely suited for the exploration of this question obtained from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. My key findings show that the share of minorities and women in high‐paying skilled occupations grew more at federal contractors subject to affirmative action obligation than at noncontracting firms during the three decades under study, but these advances took place primarily during the pre‐ and early Reagan years and during the decade following the Glass Ceiling Act of 1991.

JEL Classification: J15, J16, J21, J7, J8, K31, N32, N42, M51

Suggested Citation

Kurtulus, Fidan Ana, Affirmative Action and the Occupational Advancement of Minorities and Women During 1973–2003 (April 2012). Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Vol. 51, Issue 2, pp. 213-246, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

Fidan Ana Kurtulus (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Amherst ( email )

Department of Operations and Information Managemen
Amherst, MA 01003
United States

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