Study: More Education May Not Lead to Support For Affirmative Action

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 22, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Just as race-based affirmative action in higher education is set to make another appearance in the U.S. Supreme Court, new research from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor’s Geoffrey T. Wodtke suggests, among other things, that highly educated people are not more likely than the less educated to support racial preference policies like affirmative action.

The research, which appears in Social Psychology Quarterly, is one of the first studies to look at the racial attitudes of adult Latinos, blacks, and Asians as well as whites. Mr. Wodtke analyzes the relationship between educational attainment and racial attitudes, using data from Emory University’s Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality and the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey to determine various groups’ attitudes about stereotypes, discrimination, and policies. He places his findings in the context of a literature that indicates that education generally has a liberalizing effect, but has not often addressed the attitudes of groups other than whites.

The report finds that more-educated whites, Hispanics, and blacks are more likely to reject negative racial stereotypes than their less-educated peers — but that doesn’t seem to be true of well-educated Asians. And while highly educated members of all groups are more likely to perceive discrimination against minorities, they are not more likely to support racial preference like affirmative action. Education level does seem to correspond with increased support for race-targeted, job-training programs.

The data in this report don’t include explanations for any group’s attitudes. Wodtke suggests that highly educated minorities who may have actually participated in affirmative-action programs may be more aware of the downsides, such as the “stigma of incompetence,” that can come when minorities are assumed to have been hired as a result of affirmative action. He also writes that the fact that people are more likely to support job-training programs than preference programs may reflect “individualistic and meritocratic ideals.”

The report ends with some strong language:

...The results of this analysis suggest that an advanced education is not particularly enlightening or empowering for any group with respect for attitudes. Despite exhibiting an acute awareness of the racial preferences that exact great harm on minorities in the United States...neither educated whites nor educated minorities show a heightened commitment to policies designed specifically to overcome these pernicious forms of racial discrimination... . This suggests that a primary ideological function of the formal education system is to marginalize ideas and values that are particularly challenging to existing power structures, perhaps even among those that occupy disadvantaged social positions.

Wow. We’ll see how the Supreme Court — a very highly educated group, we’ll note — rules this time. What do you think?

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.