Stratification Economics: A Primer and an Explanation on Opposition to Affirmative Action

cartoon depiction of cars unevenly lined in separate lanes facing a finish line that reads "economic prosperity"

Abstract

In this chapter, stratification economics provides a vehicle for analyzing attitudes toward affirmative action. The chapter begins with a historical example of an American politician who relied on racial tension and the fears of the dominant group to garner support to promote his campaign. This offers an introduction to the framework and guiding elements of stratification economics – most notably, its emphasis on relative, identity-based, group status. This is followed by a discussion of elemental principles of stratification economics and a summary of a range of its prior applications to explain intergroup disparities, considering outcomes in labor markets, social markets, public good allocations, and more. Subsequent sections explore the consistency of this approach with the varying attitudes expressed toward various group-targeted policies in America. In particular, historical examples are gathered into two categories for analysis and exploration: policies that become desirable when they no longer risk benefitting the lower-status (subaltern) group’s status and policies that are undesirable because they are expected to improve the subaltern group’s relative position. Finally, the chapter concludes with additional thoughts on the potential for targeted and universal proposals to achieve popular support in order to advance equity.

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