The effects of America's three affirmative action programs on academic performance

Douglas S. Massey, Margarita Mooney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Although affirmative action programs for minority students form just one of several criteria for preferential admissions to American colleges and universities, little research has compared the impact of other large affirmative actions programs such as those for athletes and legacies. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF), a sample of nearly 4,000 students in 28 elite American colleges and universities, we develop models that test claims about the effects of affirmative action-namely mismatch hypothesis and stereotype threat-on college performance in three groups: minorities, athletes, and legacies. First, we estimate models predicting two direct and indirect effects suggested by stereotype threat: hours studied per week and the degree of psychological performance burden reported by students. Next we include these direct and indirect measures of stereotype threat and the mismatch hypothesis on grades earned through the end of sophomore year and the likelihood of leaving school by spring of junior year. We do not find strong evidence for the mismatch hypothesis as applied to minorities and athletes, although legacies who enjoyed a greater admissions bonus earned lower grades. Minorities attending institutions that practice greater affirmative action were less likely to drop out but did report lower grades. We also find that legacies and athletes who attend a school that practices institutional affirmative action are indeed more likely to drop out of school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-117
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Affirmative action
  • Higher education
  • Legacy students
  • Stereotype threat
  • Student athletes


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