Affirmative Action and Stereotype Threat

Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center Discussion Paper No. 805

35 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2015  

Anat Bracha

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Alma Cohen

Tel Aviv University - Eitan Berglas School of Economics; Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Lynn Conell-Price

Carnegie Mellon University

Date Written: January 2015

Abstract

This paper provides experimental evidence on the effect of affirmative action (AA). In particular, we investigate whether affirmative action has a ”stereotype threat effect” – that is, whether AA cues a negative stereotype that leads individuals to conform to the stereotype and adversely affects their performance. Stereotype threat has been shown in the literature to be potentially significant for individuals who identify strongly with the domain of the stereotype and who engage in complex stereotype-relevant tasks. We therefore explore this question in the context of gender-based AA for a complex math task. In this context, the stereotype is most relevant for women with high math ability, and the stereotype threat effects can be expected to work in the opposite direction to AA’s competition effect that encourages women to compete. We find that, consistent with the presence of a stereotype threat, AA has an overall negative effect on the performance of high-ability women performing complex math tasks.

Keywords: Affirmative action, stereotype threat, gender differences, GRE performance

JEL Classification: C91, I28, J16, J78, K19, K31

Suggested Citation

Bracha, Anat and Cohen, Alma and Conell-Price, Lynn, Affirmative Action and Stereotype Threat (January 2015). Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center Discussion Paper No. 805 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2563772 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2563772

Anat Bracha

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston ( email )

600 Atlantic Ave.
Boston, MA 02210
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/anatbracha/

Alma Cohen (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Eitan Berglas School of Economics ( email )

Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, 69978
Israel

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
(617) 496-4099 (Phone)
(617) 812-0554 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lynn Conell-Price

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

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