Affirmative-action policies can help motivate underrepresented minority students before they apply to college and, as a result, can help narrow achievement gaps across demographic groups, concludes a report released on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The report concerns an experiment in which students in the fifth through eighth grades competed for cash prizes and were paid according to their relative performance on a national mathematics examination. The study was designed to gauge if an affirmative-action policy would motivate students to invest in building “human capital.” It tracked their study habits and examined how they adjusted their effort—which, in turn, influenced their test scores—in response to changes in affirmative-action policy.
The study found that an affirmative-action policy “substantially boosted human-capital-investment activities by our disadvantaged group,” and narrowed gaps in test scores. The full report is available to National Bureau of Economic Research subscribers here.