Affirmative Action, Mismatch, and Economic Mobility After California’s Proposition 209, by Zachary Bleemer, CSHE 10.20 (August 2020)


Proposition 209 banned race-based affirmative action at California public universities in 1998. This study analyzes Prop 209's impact on student outcomes using a difference-in-difference research design and a newly-constructed longitudinal database linking all 1994-2002 University of California applicants to their college enrollment, course performance, major choice, degree attainment, and wages into their mid-30s. Ending affirmative action caused UC's 10,000 annual underrepresented minority (URM) freshman applicants to cascade into lower-quality public and private universities. URM applicants' undergraduate and graduate degree attainment declined overall and in STEM fields, especially among lower-testing applicants. As a result, the average URM UC applicant's wages declined by five percent annually between ages 24 and 34, almost wholly driven by declines among Hispanic applicants. By the mid-2010s, Prop 209 had caused a cumulative decline in the number of early-career URM Californians earning over $100,000 by at least three percent. Prop 209 also deterred thousands of qualified URM students from applying to any UC campus. Enrolling at less-selective UC campuses did not improve URM students' performance or persistence in STEM course sequences. Complementary regression discontinuity and institutional value-added analyses suggest that affirmative action's net wage benefits for URM applicants exceed its (potentially small) net costs for on-the-margin white and Asian applicants. These findings are inconsistent with the university “Mismatch Hypothesis” and provide the first causal evidence that banning affirmative action exacerbates socioeconomic inequities.

Online Appendix to Affirmative Action, Mismatch, and Economic Mobility after California’s Proposition 209  

Zachary Bleemer
Publication date: 
August 20, 2020
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)