12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is a program that was designed to promote educational and vocational access for underprivileged minority groups. The idea behind the program was to counter the socioeconomic trends that had been historically developed in the United States. This allowed people who would normally not be able to attend college or work in certain careers to do so.

On the other hand, Affirmative Action was also ruled to be a form of discrimination when it was implemented in its quota-based format. The program, at times, would allow for an under-qualified individual to be accepted instead of a qualified individual simply because of their minority status.

Affirmative Action started in the United States thanks to an executive order by John F. Kennedy in 1961. In 2015, Justice Lewis Powell stated that in his opinion, lawful Affirmative Action programs could still exist if they were based on reasons beyond correcting past discrimination.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of Affirmative Action to consider after 50 years of program evolution.

What Are the Advantages of Affirmative Action?

1. It promotes diversity.
Affirmative Action ensures that a diverse environment can be achieved. This adds perspectives and experiences to the environment which wouldn’t be present if the program wasn’t in place. Although some may say that artificially encouraging diversity doesn’t follow societal norms, in most instance, humanity is better when we can learn from our differences instead of being comfortable in sameness.

2. It can eliminate socioeconomic differences.
When the Great Recession ended in 2009, the overall income a household received in the United States rose by 6.9% over the next 3 years. Going deeper into those numbers, however, and you’ll see that the top 1% of earners saw real income grow by over 34%, while the bottom 99% saw a gain of just 0.8%. 91% of real income during that period was captured by the country’s top earners. Affirmative Action is a program that can help to balance those scales.

3. It stops stereotypes.
Polarization in the US is occurring because people are choosing to surround themselves with like-minded neighbors and co-workers. The number of Congressional seats that are labeled as “open,” or without a clear preference for conservative or liberal representation, has decreased by over 70% since 1996. Affirmative Action, in its promotion of diversity, can help to stop stereotypes because it creates interactions between groups that may not choose to interact with each other in “real” life.

4. It allows people to chase dreams.
Affirmative Action allows people to pursue a career that they may never have considered without help from the program. There are significant gaps for women in minorities in certain fields still today, such as technology, health care, and aeronautic that could potentially benefit from the diversity that Affirmative Action promotes.

5. It can help to break the glass ceiling.
When people are put into an environment and treated as an equal, then it can stop the various gaps that we see in our current society. Wage gaps have the potential to go away. Gender gaps can be reduced in certain industries. Minority gaps can be reduced because there are more opportunities available to receive a higher education. These efforts can help to finally break the glass ceilings that have held so many people back for far too long.

6. It reverses societal loss.
In the United States, it could be argued that minority groups are at a societal disadvantage because of their historical treatment. Through slavery and oppression, minority households over the course of generations have not had the same opportunities to build wealth. A program like Affirmative Action can help those minority households begin to reverse the societal losses they have experienced.


What Are the Disadvantages of Affirmative Action?

1. It promotes discrimination in reverse.
If the goal is to eliminate discrimination from a society, then offering a program that promotes discrimination is not the way to go about doing so. Giving one person preference over another because of their minority status instead of their qualifications is the wrong perspective, especially in quota-based systems. Searching for a diverse group of qualified candidates and having programming to promote that search lessens the promotion of discrimination.

2. It still reinforces stereotypes.
Any time a program exists that allows someone to obtain a position in a school or a workplace, a foundation of minority-based stereotypes can be built. Even if all people are qualified, Affirmative Action comes from the perspective that women or minorities are “inferior” to white men, which promotes a superior attitude from the majority class. For such a program to succeed, it must come from a viewpoint of pure equality.

3. Diversity can be just as bad as it can be good.
Diversity for the sake of having it provides little benefit to a school or business. There must be a purpose to seeking out a diverse environment for it to be beneficial. When a program like Affirmative Action exists, the goal of the program tends to slide toward meeting expectations or regulations instead of seeking out highly qualified people. If that slide occurs, diversity can hurt more than it can help.

4. It changes accountability standards.
Equality means giving everyone the same fair chance at the beginning of a journey. Instead of focusing on socioeconomic issues, we can shift our focus toward creating better educational opportunities in every neighborhood in the US. We can provide a better law enforcement presence, start mentoring programs, and offer more assistance to those who need it. Affirmative Action is reactive, which means accountability standards change. We need to be proactive to create equality.

5. It lessens the achievements that minority groups obtain.
If someone receives a position because of a program like Affirmative Action, then their achievements are viewed as a result of policy instead of personal skill and talent. This means people in minority groups typically must work harder to achieve the same level of respect that people in majority groups receive as they must counter the policy perspective.

6. Personal bias will always exist.
Despite the Civil Rights Movement, programs like Affirmative Action, and numerous diversity plans, our news cycles are dominated by stories that involve racism, classism, and political polarization. There will always be a personal bias in place. Instead of trying to work around discrimination, we should confront it head-on so that we can evolve our society instead of attempting to revolutionize it.

The advantages and disadvantages of Affirmative Action show us that promoting diversity can be good, but it should not happen at the expense of others. Equality is a goal we can all strive toward. In some circumstances, a program like Affirmative Action could promote needed diversity. From a societal standpoint, however, we need to be proactive in our efforts to help everyone start from the same place. That way each person can pursue the opportunities that are right for them.


Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.