President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 in 1961 introducing Affirmative Action to the American workplace. More than 40 years later, the ramifications still deeply affect millions of lives. Affirmative Action was a way to provide a more level playing field for groups that faced systemic discrimination. It initially included protected groups such as racial and ethnic minorities, but President Johnson extended it to include women as well. It had positive employment and occupational advancement effect, especially for minority women, allowing them to participate in work spheres that were previously inaccessible to them (Kurtulus 2012, Kurtulus 2015).
In 1996, California became the first state to repeal Affirmative Action in state and local government employment with the passing of Proposition 209. In the next years, other states such as Washington, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire did away with it as well. In this week's HKS WAPPP Seminar, Dr. Fidan Ana Kurtulus, Associate Professor Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, talked about her latest paper, which looks at the consequences of these bans on minority and female employment.
|Professor Fidan Ana Kurtulus, UMASS Amherst|
Another unique feature of her research is the dataset she worked with. The EEO-4 dataset has not been generally available to researches. It is a dataset that contains the demographic characteristics of employees of state and local agencies, and covers a long time span, from 1990 to 2009. “There had not been any scientific researchers that had used these data in its full form”, explained Kurtulus, adding that she was excited to be working with this resource.
And while the dataset itself is interesting, the results of her research are even more so. Kurtulus found that once Affirmative Action is repealed, the share of Hispanic men that work in state or local government decreases by 7%; the share of black women goes down by 4%, and the share of Asian women is reduced by 37%. The figure for Asian women might seem disproportionately large but she explained that the reason for this is that there were very few Asian women in that workforce to begin with, so any change would produce a large effect. In all, the loss of workplace diversity is significant.
“Can these results say anything to people that oppose Affirmative Action?" Kurtulus asked, and answered her own question with an emphatic 'yes', this is "data driven evidence on the implications of removing Affirmative Action". In addition, the findings are very timely. "It is very timely because other states are considering the possibility of banning Affirmative Action... A lot of the debate is really being driven by rhetoric that is not empirical in nature", she commented. This research can bridge that gap, so we can hold a debate on this issue that is better informed.