At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) are responsible for most equal opportunity and affirmative action regulations and enforcement.
When considering the effects of affirmative action, the interests of various stakeholders must be taken into account. The primary stakeholders are the target groups, other non-target groups, organizations that have affirmative action plans (AAPs) and society at large. The phrase 'effects of' implies a causal relation.
However, causal conclusions can rarely be drawn in affirmative-action research because scholars cannot control whether organizations have AAPs or the dimensions (e.g. race and gender) that determine who is targeted by those plans.
The purpose of affirmative action is to improve the outcomes of target groups. Research indicates that the size and even the existence of demonstrated benefits on employment have varied across time, location, target group and job level (Holzer and Neumark 2000; Smith 2001).
In addition, minority status (African American or Hipic) contributes to college and university admission only among the most selective institutions, where it increases the probability of admission by up to 10 per cent (Kane 1998). Among African Americans, admission to such selective colleges and universities is associated with an increased probability of graduation, post-baccalaureate education and professional success (Bowen and Bok 1998).
On the other hand, the use of affirmative action in the USA is associated with decreased employment outcomes for white males (Holzer and Neumark 1999, 2000).
The relative paucity of 'reverse discrimination' charges filed with the EEOC suggests that these effects are due primarily to the elimination of the privileges often enjoyed by white males rather than to the use of strong preferences for female or minority applicants.
Because elite universities reject so many whites and accept so few minority students, the negative impact of affirmative action on white applicants is quite small (Kane 1998).
On a broader scale, the long-term effect of having a diverse student body appears to be positive for all groups and for society as a whole. Diversity in higher education is associated with individual changes in attitudes and abilities that enhance participation and success in an increasingly diverse democratic society (Bowen and Bok 1998; Gurin et al 2004).
Opponents of affirmative action argue that workplace AAPs depress the performance of organizations, which are forced to hire less competent employees.
Supporters argue that affirmative action improves organizational performance by eliminating economically inefficient discrimination and increasing workforce diversity. Research finds that organizations that use affirmative action in selection tend to hire minority individuals whose educational credentials are slightly lower than those of their white male hires.
However, this difference in education does not lead to a corresponding difference in performance, perhaps because these organizations have developed superior human resource practices that enable them to identify high potential individuals and improve their capacities after they are hired. In short, workplace affirmative action does not appear to have a substantial effect, either positive or negative, on organizational performance (Holzer and Neumark 1999, 2000).
An important question is whether individuals who are selected in the context of an AAP are stigmatized by others. The discounting principle of attribution theory suggests that one's confidence in the importance of a potential cause is lower when other plausible causes are available.
For example, if a Hipic man is hired by an organization with an AAP, two plausible causes for his selection are competence and ethnicity. But if the organization does not have an AAP or if the new hire is a white male, the remaining plausible cause for selection is competence.
Ratings of the new hire's competence would therefore be lower when he or she is a target group member than in other situations. Experimental research finds precisely this effect.
This stigmatization can be eliminated by providing unequivocal evidence of the new hire's competence, but it is not eliminated by ambiguous evidence of competence (Heilman et al. 1998). Given the continued prevalence of negative stereotypes of racial minorities, along with the common assumption that affirmative action involves preferential selection, it is likely that stigmatization is relatively common.
Although most research on stigmatization has focused on the workplace, the same logic applies to college and university admissions. Virtually all research in this area has been limited to evaluations of paper stimuli; the extent to which such stigmatization is maintained in the context of workplace interactions is unclear.