III. EVALUATIONS OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND AAPs
Much of the psychological research on affirmative action has dealt with
the antecedents of attitudes toward affirmative action, where attitudes can be defined as
"evaluative judgments about particular objects, issues, persons, or any other
identifiable aspects of the environment" (Baron & Graziano, 1991, p. 197).
Presumably, by understanding, predicting, and changing attitudes toward AAPs, one can
substantially increase the likelihood of understanding, predicting, and changing
AAP-related behaviors (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1977, 1980; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975;
Kraus, 1995). Consistent with this assumption, AAP administrators and personnel officers
have identified supportive attitudes among managers and employees as one of the most
important factors in determining an affirmative action plan's effectiveness (Hitt &
Keats, 1984; N = 31). For this reason we provide an extensive review of research on
attitudes toward affirmative action and AAPs. We first describe the ways in which
researchers have measured attitudes and have presented affirmative action stimuli. We then
discuss research on structural influences, and finally turn to research on individual
A. The Nature of Affirmative Action Attitudes
Researchers have measured attitudes in many different ways. In most
studies, measures have been purely evaluative. Thus, respondents might be asked to agree
or disagree with such statements as: "Affirmative action is a good policy"
(Kravitz & Platania, 1993, p. 937), "After years of discrimination, it is only
fair to set up special programs to make sure that women and minorities are given every
chance to have equal opportunities in employment and education" (Jacobson, 1985, p.
310), and "Affirmative action programs that help Blacks and minorities to get ahead
should be supported" (Kluegel & Smith, 1983, p. 804). Some researchers have
obtained ratings of fairness rather than attitudes. Empirical research to be discussed
reveals that fairness judgments and attitudes are very closely related. Thus, we treat the
fairness ratings as surrogates for attitudes except when explicitly addressing the
relation between the two constructs.
As explained below, attitudes are strongly influenced by the precise
manner in which the AAP is described. To understand research results, therefore, it is
important to know how affirmative action was described to the participants. Insofar as
possible, we categorize AAP procedures as follows. This categorization does not always
match the terms used by the authors of the research being discussed. In these definitions,
decision can refer to any employment decision (e.g., selection, salary, promotion).
Under strong preferential treatment, decisions are based solely or primarily on
demographic status. For example, merit is not measured, an unqualified minority is
selected, or the less qualified minority applicant is favored. Some authors refer to this
condition as discrimination in reverse. In most cases quotas would fall in this category
because they require the selection of a certain number or proportion of minorities
regardless of qualifications. Under preferential treatment (neither weak nor
strong), decisions are based on both merit and demographic status, with the relative
weighting left unspecified. The preferred minority is not said to be unqualified. Under weak
preferential treatment, decisions favor the more qualified applicant unless
qualifications are equivalent, in which case the minority applicant is favored. Under merit,
decisions are said to be based solely on merit, which presumably is an indication of the
individual's ability to perform well. When procedures attempt to eliminate
discrimination, they include actions designed to do away with existing barriers to
success. Compensatory procedures include other actions designed to help minorities
(e.g., training, career guidance), but decisions are based solely on merit. Diversity
procedures include efforts to increase the diversity of the workforce (e.g., through
recruitment), but decisions are based solely on merit
B. Structural Influences
Much of the research on affirmative action attitudes has emphasized the
importance of structural features of AAPs. This research has frequently included a
manipulation of some aspect of an AAP. The underlying assumption is that reactions to an
AAP will depend on details of the plan, particularly on the weighting of demographic
status. This research is relevant to the public debate about affirmative action because
much of that debate involves disagreement about what affirmative action means (e.g.,
preferential treatment versus assurance of equal opportunity). After discussing this
research we will turn to work on other structural factors, including the identity of the
target group, the organizational setting, and the need for affirmative action.
1. Qualifications of Selected Candidate
In selection situations, fairness ratings are affected by the
qualifications of the selected and rejected candidates. Nacoste (1985, 1987; Nacoste &
Lehman, 1987) created scenarios in which two people were competing for a fellowship, and
asked respondents to play the role of the winning candidate. Fairness ratings were higher
when the more qualified candidate was selected. Using a similar experimental procedure,
Arthur, Doverspike, and Fuentes (1992) found that fairness ratings were higher when
qualifications of the selected minority candidate were equal rather than inferior to
qualifications of the rejected majority candidate. In Mann and Fasolo (1992), in contrast,
the effect of qualifications on ratings of decision fairness did not quite attain
traditional levels of statistical significance (p < .08). In Gilliland and
Haptonstahl (1995), fairness ratings were highest when the better qualified majority
candidate was selected, intermediate when the majority and minority candidates had equal
qualifications (regardless of who was selected), and lowest when the poorer qualified
minority candidate was selected. In Heilman, McCullough, and Gilbert (1996), fairness
ratings were higher when qualifications of the selected female candidate were equal or
superior to those of the rejected male candidate than when they were inferior. Singer
(1990, 1992) provided more precise tests of the importance of candidate qualifications by
manipulating the test scores of the selected and rejected candidates. Fairness ratings
were monotonically related to the difference in scores. That is, the larger the
superiority of the selected candidate, the higher the fairness rating. Contrariwise, the
larger the superiority of the rejected candidate, the lower the fairness ratings. The
relative impact of the difference in qualifications was largest when the difference was
smallest (i.e., when qualifications of the two candidates were almost identical); the
fairness rating function was steepest near the zero point.
In summary, research on qualifications clearly reveals that fairness
ratings increase along with the superiority of the selected over the rejected candidate.
This research relates to the work on AAP structure because underqualified candidates can
only be selected if demographic status is given positive weight. Thus, we now turn to
research that has directly addressed the effect of AAP structure on evaluations of the
affirmative action plan.
2. Structure of the AAP (Weighting of Demographic Status)
The underlying assumption of research on AAP structure is that an
individual's understanding of what affirmative action entails will influence his or her
attitude. This point has been made by many theorists and researchers, and recently has
been developed by Barnes Nacoste (1994; Nacoste, 1994, 1995). Briefly, Nacoste argued that
people have cognitive (policy) schemas that incorporate their beliefs about affirmative
action. Beliefs about what constitutes a typical procedure are critically important, with
beliefs about the use of universalistic and particularistic contributions playing a
central role. Universalistic contributions include merit and other capacities that will
influence performance. Particularistic contributions include individual attributes that
may be taken into consideration but will not influence performance. Race and ethnicity are
the most relevant particularistic contributions in the context of affirmative action. The
individual's policy schema will strongly influence his or her reactions to affirmative
action; reactions will become increasingly negative as the anticipated weighting of
particularistic contributions increases.
Nacoste (1994, 1995) used a combination of interdependence theory and
procedural justice theory to explain reactions to affirmative action. He argued that
reactions to an AAP (or to the individual's affirmative action policy schema) are based on
three comparison level standards. Weighting of demographic status plays a key role in
these comparisons. Observers compare the enacted procedure to: (a) the procedure that
gives too much weight to group membership, (b) the set of realistic alternative procedures
the observer considers to be superior, and (c) the procedure that precisely counteracts
the effects of discrimination. If an individual believes that an AAP gives more weight to
demographic status than is appropriate, he or she will consider the AAP to be unfair, will
dislike the AAP, will not be attracted to the organization, and will stigmatize people who
are selected under the AAP. Note that these reactions will be based on the individual's
affirmative action policy schema. The validity of the policy schema is irrelevant;
perceptions determine reactions.
Other researchers have suggested that AAP structure influences attitudes
because it has implications for personal and collective self-interest (e.g., Kravitz,
1995; Veilleux & Tougas, 1989). That is, the greater the weighting of demographic
status, the more the procedure will help individuals in that demographic group and hurt
individuals in other demographic groups. We discuss competitive tests of the theories
elsewhere in this review. We now review the empirical research on AAP structure.
b. Empirical Research
(1) Knowledge of Affirmative Action
The underlying assumption of research on AAP structure is that an
individual's understanding of what affirmative action entails will influence his or her
attitude. Thus, we begin with a brief review of research on knowledge of affirmative
Goldsmith, Cordova, Dwyer, Langlois, and Crosby (1989) interviewed 62
women associated with a liberal arts college for women shortly after an announcement that
the college would become an affirmative action institution. They obtained significant
positive correlations between two measures of knowledge and two measures of attitude.
Stout and Buffum (1993) surveyed 193 members of the Texas Chapter of the National
Association of Social Workers. Both positive and negative experiences with affirmative
action were positively related to self-reported knowledge about affirmative action and to
commitment to affirmative action, but knowledge did not correlate significantly with
commitment. In a study to be discussed in more detail later, Bell (1996) surveyed the
attitudes of 610 participants, half of whom were full-time employees in a variety of
firms. Bell reports that self-reported knowledge of the details of affirmative action
policies was related to more negative attitudes. Differences in the measures of knowledge
might account for the different results of these three studies; at this time no clear
conclusion can be drawn about the relation between knowledge of affirmative action and
There is some evidence that the public has a poor understanding of
affirmative action, and some argue that opposition to affirmative action is based in part
on this misunderstanding (e.g., Crosby, 1994; Eberhardt & Fiske, 1994). Kravitz and
his colleagues (Kravitz & Platania, 1992, 1993; Kravitz, Stinson, & Mello, 1994)
presented their participants with 10 to 25 potential components of an AAP. Respondents in
Kravitz and Platania (1992, 1993) were undergraduates; those in Kravitz et al. (1994) were
community residents contacted via telephone. All three samples were multi-racial (White,
Black, and Hispanic). The potential AAP components included several questions dealing with
preferential treatment, compensatory actions, diversity efforts, the elimination of
discrimination, and other actions. Participants evaluated each component and estimated the
likelihood that it would be included in an AAP. The likelihood ratings revealed that
respondents had a less than perfect understanding of what affirmative action entails. For
example, although affirmative action regulations emphasize recruitment and the elimination
of discrimination, these potential components received neutral likelihood ratings.
Respondents also did not know which organizations are required to have AAPs. Kravitz
(1994) briefly reported the results of content analyses of open-ended definitions of
affirmative action provided by respondents in Kravitz and Platania (1993), Kravitz et al.
(1994), and a third unpublished study that sampled employees of a firm without an AAP. He
reported that approximately 40% of the respondents were completely unfamiliar with the
concept of affirmative action. Many of those who claimed familiarity provided vague or
In 1989, Pace and Smith (1995) surveyed 1,075 municipal and county chief
financial officers, and asked them to identify which of three statements most closely
matched their understanding of federal affirmative action requirements. Almost all
respondents believed the requirements involved weak preferential treatment (48.3%) or
recruitment (43.8%); only a few respondents (7.8%) thought the requirements involved
strong preferential treatment.
A poor or undeveloped understanding might imply the possibility of
attitude change in response to new information. This possibility was addressed by Fletcher
and Chalmers (1991), who questioned a representative sample of Canadian citizens and
decision makers about their affirmative action attitudes. This study is discussed in more
detail later. For the moment, we note that more than half the citizen respondents
indicated their opinions would change when given an opposing argument. Consistent with
this result, Kinder and Sanders (1990) categorized their respondents as less- or
more-informed about public affairs. They found that report that the manner in which
affirmative action was framed generally had a larger influence on reactions to a variety
of questions among the less-informed respondents than among the more-informed respondents.
In summary, although theorists and others (e.g., Collison, 1992) have
argued that public opposition is based in part on a poor understanding of what affirmative
action entails, empirical research is limited. The studies of public beliefs have all been
reported by a single researcher who obtained the data in a single geographical area, which
suggests that these results need to be replicated. Other research suggests that attitudes
toward affirmative action are related to knowledge about affirmative action and that
people will change their support when given information inconsistent with their initial
opinion. There is a clear need for more research on public knowledge of affirmative action
and how that knowledge relates to attitudes. Research on reactions to specific AAPs
provides more information about the relation between knowledge and attitudes. We shall
turn to that research after briefly reviewing some conclusions drawn from opinion polls.
(2) Opinion Polls
Lipset and Schneider (1978) examined nearly 100 opinion polls completed
between 1935 and 1977. They concluded that Americans strongly support equality of
opportunity and the elimination of discrimination, moderately support compensatory action
(e.g., extra training for minorities), and oppose preferential treatment and the use of
quotas. Sigelman and Welch (1991) provided an analysis of many national surveys of
attitudes toward affirmative action. They concluded that both Blacks and Whites support
equal opportunity and affirmative action in general, and oppose preferential treatment and
quotas. In all cases, support was somewhat higher among Blacks than Whites. Lynch and Beer
(1990) cited public opinion polls, Lynch's in-depth interviews, and other commentators to
make the point that Whites dislike affirmative action that involves quotas or preferential
treatment, though they support equality and compensatory action.
Kluegel and Smith (1983) report data from a representative sample of
1,596 English-speaking Whites in the U.S. They reported support for affirmative action
programs that "help Blacks and other minorities to get ahead," with 76% agreeing
or strongly agreeing. Opinions were divided on the use of quotas in colleges and
universities (59% agree or strongly agree) and in businesses (51% agree or strongly
agree). Two-thirds of the respondents felt that such preferential treatment for Blacks is
unfair. Fine (1992a, 1992b) analyzed opinion survey data from a 1986 national probability
sample of U. S. adults (319 Blacks and 1,790 Whites). Support for preferential hiring and
promotion of Blacks varied with question phrasing. It ranged from 11% to 24% among Whites,
and from 61% to 75% among Blacks. In addition, 46% of Black respondents agreed that it is
not the government's job to guarantee equal opportunity, and 43% agreed that Blacks should
overcome prejudice and work their way up without any special favors.
In summary, opinion polls results revealed that White Americans strongly
support equality and the elimination of discrimination, but oppose preferential treatment.
Reactions to compensatory actions are less clear. Polls of Black Americans revealed
somewhat higher support for preferential treatment, but a clear preference for equal
opportunity. Experimental research provides more detailed information about reactions to
specific AAPs, and is described below.
(3) Experimental Research
Most laboratory studies have been limited to two or three different
types of AAPs, and we begin by reviewing that research. Except where otherwise noted, all
the following studies used undergraduates as respondents.
Many studies have found that people prefer merit-based decisions to any
type of preferential treatment. Research on French Canadian women (Tougas & Veilleux,
1988) and on French Canadian managers and professional men (Tougas & Veilleux, 1989;
Veilleux & Tougas, 1989) revealed a preference for the elimination of discrimination
over weak preferential treatment. Brutus and Ryan (1994) found that female undergraduates
rated merit-based selection more positively than preferential treatment based on gender.
In a third condition the experimenter stated that selection was based on merit, but an
experimental confederate argued that preferential treatment was being used. Respondents
also evaluated this condition lower than merit-based selection. In Nacoste and Hummels
(1994), 186 undergraduates rated the fairness of a weak (equal opportunity) or strong
(pressured to hire more women) AAP. Ratings of these plans did not differ significantly.
In Hattrup (1994), 266 female undergraduates evaluated merit selection more positively
than strong preferential treatment based on gender. In addition, fairness ratings of merit
selection (but not of strong preferential treatment), were positively related to
respondent self-efficacy. Heilman, Simon and Repper (1987) found that 140 male and female
undergraduates considered merit selection fairer than strong preferential treatment.
Heilman et al. (1996) replicated this difference in a sample of male undergraduates. The
effect was moderated, however, by information about qualifications. The difference was not
significant if the woman selected in the preferential treatment condition was more
qualified and therefore would also have been selected on the basis of merit. In Experiment
1 of Heilman, Rivero and Brett (1991), using 60 male and female undergraduates, fairness
ratings varied with selection procedure, respondent gender, and the Procedure X Gender
interaction. Men and women responded equally positively to merit selection, but men
responded more negatively than women to strong preferential treatment. In Experiment 2, 36
female undergraduates evaluated merit-based selection more positively than strong
preferential treatment, regardless of whether they were told their scores on the pretest.
Singer (1996) obtained ratings of merit selection and preferential selection from 312
adult residents in New Zealand. He found that 143 preferred merit selection and only 19
preferred preferential selection; the remaining 150 did not evaluate the two programs
differently. In sum, these studies reveal that people generally evaluate merit selection
more positively than preferential treatment. Evaluations of merit selection are almost
universally positive, but evaluations of preferential treatment are moderated by such
factors as respondent gender, self-efficacy, and knowledge about application
The importance of merit is further revealed in a study of 96 male
francophone managers in Canada (Joly, Pelchat, & Tougas, 1993). The managers evaluated
a weak preferential treatment procedure, in which gender was to be considered only if
competing candidates had equivalent merit. The description of the procedure varied. In one
condition the procedural description emphasized the important role of merit; in a second
condition respondents were given information about the percentage of women in the
workforce; in the third condition no additional information was given. Evaluations were
most positive when merit was emphasized. Thus, evaluations of weak preferential treatment
depend on how it is described. This study did not include a pure merit procedure, so it
was not possible to know whether emphasizing the role of merit in weak preferential
treatment will increase evaluations to the level of a merit procedure alone. Tougas,
Crosby, Joly, and Pelchat (1995) reported two similar studies of male francophone Canadian
managers and professionals. In Study 1 (N = 96) , the affirmative action conditions
included a control condition (details not described), statistics condition (included data
demonstrating women's underrepresentation) and a merit condition (emphasized role of merit
in affirmative action selection decisions). Study 2 (N = 131) included the control and
merit conditions, a third condition describing the weighting of gender in selection
decisions, and a fourth condition providing the ultimate numerical goal of the program.
Analyses revealed no effects of condition on attitudes. Although condition did affect
ratings of fairness, interpretation of this effect is complicated because the fairness
measure included wording identical to that used in the description of the merit condition.
Several papers compared strong preferential treatment to a weaker
version of preferential treatment in which the precise weighting of merit and demographic
status was not specified. In three studies (Nacoste, 1985, 1987; Nacoste & Lehman,
1987; Ns = 96, 106, and 106, respectively), female undergraduates rated fairness of the
selection procedure and decision more negatively when the procedure involved strong
preferential treatment than when it involved preferential treatment. In Arthur et al.,
(1992), respondents in the strong preferential treatment condition rated the procedure as
less fair than those in the preferential treatment condition. In summary, these studies
revealed that evaluations of preferential treatment are inversely related to the weighting
of demographic status.
In a series of three experiments, Matheson, Echenberg, Taylor, Rivers,
and Chow (1994) studied women's reactions to four AAPs that varied in the weight given to
demographic status. In Study One, 60 undergraduates gave positive evaluations to the
elimination of discrimination, negative evaluations to weak preferential treatment, and
very negative evaluations to strong preferential treatment and complete discrimination. In
Study Two, 43 undergraduates evaluated the elimination of discrimination positively and
the three versions of preferential treatment equally negatively. In Study Three, 19 police
trainees responded negatively to a "no action" program and equally positively to
four AAPs. The lack of significant differences among the AAPs may have been due to the low
statistical power due to the tiny sample size. It is interesting to note that all AAPs
receive negative evaluations in Studies 1 and 2 and positive evaluations in Study 3; this
might be due to the different populations from which the samples of respondents were
Nosworthy, Lea, and Lindsay (1995) asked 192 non-Black Canadian
undergraduates to evaluate four AAPs that could increase enrollment of Blacks at their
university. Endorsement was strongest for the use of advertising, next for the use of
additional fellowships for Blacks, weaker for the use of quotas, and weakest for the use
of lower standards for Black students than for White students.
In Summers (1995), 80 male and female continuing education students
evaluated three possible AAPs. A special training program received positive evaluations.
Quotas received slightly negative evaluations. Differential scoring of selection tests
(which would result in strong preferential treatment) received negative evaluations. All
differences among the AAPs were statistically significant.
White and Hispanic undergraduates evaluated eight different AAPs
targeted at Black employees in Kravitz (1995). Respondent evaluations to two plans, one of
which involved the elimination of discrimination and the second of which involved the
elimination of all information about race, were quite positive. Respondents gave less
positive but still favorable evaluations to a compensatory procedure (training), a
diversity plan (recruitment), and a plan that involved proportional hiring based on the
number of qualified applicants (which would result in a satisfactory utilization analysis
in an OFCCP report). They gave neutral evaluations to a plan that was equivalent to the
proportional hiring plan, but used the loaded term "quotas" in the description.
Their evaluations of this quota plan were not significantly different from their
evaluations of the recruitment, training, or proportional hiring plans. Finally,
respondents negatively evaluated weak and strong preferential treatment, and these
evaluations were lower than those of the other six plans. These results are generally
consistent of those previously reported. They confirmed opinion poll results indicating
that compensatory procedures are positively evaluated, but they also showed that
compensatory procedures were liked less than the elimination of discrimination.
In the research by Kravitz and his colleagues discussed above (Kravitz
& Platania, 1992, 1993; Kravitz et al., 1994), participants evaluated 10 to 25
potential components of an AAP and rated the likelihood that an AAP would actually include
the components. Participants also reported their attitudes toward affirmative action, so
the relation between beliefs and attitudes could be assessed. Results varied somewhat
across the studies. In general, respondents favored equal opportunity, the elimination of
discrimination, proportional hiring based on the availability of qualified applicants,
training, recruitment, the targeting of organizations with histories of discrimination,
and the provision of employment information to the federal government. They opposed the
hiring of unqualified applicants, proportional hiring that ignored qualifications, and all
versions of preferential treatment. Confirming the underlying premise of the research,
likelihood ratings predicted attitudes. Attitudes were most strongly related to beliefs
about the selection of unqualified applicants, preferential treatment, and proportional
hiring that ignored qualifications.
Bell, McLaughlin, and Harrison (1996) reported results of three studies
of attitudes toward AAPs. In the first study they elicited salient (cognitively
accessible) attributes that 129 students and managers thought were associated with AAPs.
Content analysis produced 14 features that comprised the top 90% of elicited attributes,
including AAP purposes designated by the original Executive Order (e.g., "create job
opportunities for minorities and women," "remove discrimination") as well
as other issues that reflect the current national debate (e.g., "restrict a
business's freedom to make decisions," "operate as a quota system,"
"increase the diversity of the workforce"). In the second study, these salient
attributes were used to explain AAP attitudes using Fishbein and Ajzen's (1975) theory of
reasoned action. The sample of undergraduate students was diverse in terms of gender (63
male and 61) and ethnicity (66% White, 12% Black, 8% Hispanic, 12% Asian, and 2% Native
American backgrounds); 78% were currently employed. As hypothesized, AAP attitudes fit an
additive function of the products of (a) the strength with which the respondents
associated each salient attribute with AAPs in general, and (b) and how positively or
negatively they evaluated that attribute. The third study paralleled the second in both
procedures and results, but involved 138 male and 64 female managers (74% White, 11%
Black, 7% Hispanic, and 8% Asian backgrounds) sampled from a variety of firms and
In a related study, Bell (1996) examined the relationships among
attribute-based beliefs, evaluations, and attitudes toward AAPs. The respondents (N = 610)
were diverse in terms of employment (50% were students and 50% were full-time employees in
various firms and industries), gender (55% male) and ethnic background (60% White, 10%
Black, 12% Hispanic, 11% Asian, and 7% Other). Attitudes were again found to be a
multiplicative function of beliefs about AAPs and evaluations of those attributes.
Konrad and Linnehan (1995a) interviewed several HRM professionals who
specialize in EEO/AA programs. Based on these interviews, they developed a list of 54
identity-conscious actions and 63 identity-blind actions that organizations can take. They
then obtained information from 138 companies about their use of these actions. On average,
these firms used 37% of the identity-conscious actions and 58% of the identity-blind
actions. In both cases, the number of actions used correlated positively with top
management support for EEO/AA. Konrad and Linnehan (1995a) listed all 117 actions, but did
not provide frequency data for each individual action.
Konrad and Linnehan (1995b) obtained evaluative ratings from 242
managers in four medium to large firms in the Philadelphia area. They evaluated 26 of the
actions listed by Konrad and Linnehan (1995a). A factor analysis revealed two factors: 4
items dealt with identity-blind actions and 18 items involved identity-conscious actions.
Identity-blind actions were evaluated positively. Reactions to the identity-conscious
actions varied with subject group, being most liked by people of color, next by White
women, and least by White men. The mean was neutral for White men, and significantly
positive for the other groups.
A similar study was reported in Davis and West's (1984) survey of 403
municipal personnel administrators in 1979. Their study included multi-item scales
measuring support for equal opportunity and affirmative action principles. Results
revealed greater support for equal opportunity principles than affirmative action
principles. Support for specific actions appeared to be highest for special recruitment
efforts, followed by weak preferential treatment when minorities are under-represented,
merit hiring rather than quotas, and lowest for special training to prepare minorities for
recruitment. Support for these four actions varied significantly with the administrator's
general support for EEO versus affirmative action.
There is greater support for the principle of equal opportunity than for
the principle of affirmative action. Evaluations (i.e., attitudes and fairness judgments)
of affirmative action are strongly influenced by actual or presumed AAP structure; they
are inversely related to the weighting of demographic status in decision making. Although
people support compensatory actions and diversity efforts, they prefer to limit
affirmative action to the elimination of discrimination. There is some evidence that there
is a great deal of variance in the understanding of what affirmative action entails, and
some have argued that this partly underlies some of the public opposition to affirmative
action. Given the relation between beliefs and attitudes, and the open question about
public understanding, there is a need for additional research on beliefs and evaluations
of specific actions that can be incorporated in EEO/AA plans. This research could take
advantage of Konrad and Linnehan's (1995a) listing of EEO/AA actions.
c. Possible Mediators of Effect of AAP Structure on Attitudes
Given that attitudes toward AAPs are strongly influenced by details of
the AAP, the next question to address is why this influence exists. Theoretical
explanations have focused on two possible mediating variables -- fairness and
self-interest. We now turn to research dealing with these variables.
(1) Perceived Fairness
Although affirmative action is designed to ensure macrojustice (justice
between groups), opposition frequently is based on concerns about microjustice (justice
for individuals) (Clayton & Tangri, 1989). Typical arguments are that affirmative
action results in "reverse discrimination" (e.g., Burstein, 1985), that
affirmative action penalizes young White men who were not responsible for discrimination
(e.g., Glasser, 1988; Groarke, 1990), and that affirmative action forces organizations to
"change the rules in the middle of the game" (e.g., Crosby, 1994). Heilman
(1994) pointed out that reactions of nontarget group members will be especially negative
if they believe affirmative action has caused them to be denied employment outcomes to
which they were entitled. Nacoste (1987) reported results consistent with his hypothesis
that one reason for negative reactions to strong AAPs is that they imply the organization
is not committed to fairness. In short, much of the debate about affirmative action has
centered on the issue of fairness.
Consistent with this emphasis, many researchers have implicitly or
explicitly assumed that attitudes toward affirmative action are driven by fairness
judgments, and have assessed perceptions of fairness rather than attitudes per se. This
work was discussed above, and revealed similar effects involving attitudes and fairness
judgments. The following review begins by summarizing three studies that qualitatively
explored the importance of fairness perceptions in peoples' understanding of affirmative
action. We then turn to assessments of both perceived fairness and attitude.
(b) Qualitative Research on Fairness Perceptions
Three studies used content analyses of interview data determine how
people think about the fairness of affirmative action. Edelman, Erlanger, and Lande (1993)
interviewed 10 management personnel who handled discrimination complaints in 10 large
companies. These administrators construed EEO/AA most often in terms of fairness,
primarily procedural fairness, rather than in legal terms. This focus on fairness is
especially meaningful because these administrators were responsible for ensuring that
their organizations complied with antidiscrimination laws.
Ayers (1992) interviewed 13 "women of color" who she knew had
been involved in affirmative action programs. Virtually all their statements about
affirmative action in principle focused on fairness rather than unfairness. Of their
statements concerning affirmative action in practice, however, approximately 40% dealt
with issues of unfairness. In terms of Leventhal's (1980) justice model, more statements
dealt with consistency than with any other justice rule. The distinction between
affirmative action in principle and in practice is consistent with the results of numerous
surveys indicating public support for the elimination of discrimination, but opposition to
most programs designed to attain that end (e.g., Lipset & Schneider, 1978).
In a telephone survey of 68 community residents and a questionnaire
study with 86 undergraduates, Kravitz and Van Epps (1995) asked respondents why they
considered affirmative action to be fair and/or unfair. Explanations of why affirmative
action was fair were most likely to include statements about equal opportunity.
Explanations of why affirmative action was unfair were most likely to include statements
about reverse discrimination and decision making based on demographics.
In summary, this research revealed that individuals do think about
affirmative action in terms of fairness. This, along with the emphasis on procedural
fairness, equal opportunity, and reverse discrimination, is consistent with the public
debate on affirmative action.
(c) Research on the Relation Between Attitudes and Perceptions of
As mentioned above, many of the studies on AAP structure examined its
relationship with fairness judgments rather than attitudes. This emphasis on fairness may
be based on the assumption that perceptions of fairness mediate attitude formation.
Surprisingly, we know of only four studies that have included measures of both fairness
and attitude. Ozawa, Crosby, and Crosby (1996) and Tougas, Crosby et al. (1995) used both
fairness and attitude as dependent variables; Taylor-Carter, Doverspike and Alexander
(1995) used attitude as a predictor of fairness ratings; Kravitz (1995) used fairness
ratings as a predictor of attitude.
In two studies, Tougas, Crosby et al. (1995) studied reactions of male
francophone Canadian managers and professionals to three or four different AAPs. Ratings
of attitudes and fairness correlated significantly in both studies (.67 and .68). Ozawa et
al. (1996) asked undergraduate students in the U. S. (N = 53) and Japan (N = 65) to
evaluate an AAP (minimum standards followed by quota hiring) on goodness (attitude) and
fairness scales. The attitude-fairness correlation was .56 in the Japanese sample and .60
in the U. S. sample.
In Taylor-Carter, Doverspike and Alexander (1995), 128 female
undergraduates initially read a definition of weak preferential treatment and reported
their attitudes toward it. They then read a favorable or unfavorable message and recorded
their relevant cognitions. They ended by rating the fairness of preferential treatment as
initially defined. Regression analysis revealed that fairness ratings were related as
expected to initial attitude, message, number of positive cognitions, and number of
negative cognitions. The correlation between fairness ratings and initial attitudes was
The assumption that attitudes toward affirmative action are based on
fairness perceptions was tested by Kravitz (1995), who contrasted the fairness model with
alternative models based on self-interest, racism, and political ideology. Kravitz
manipulated AAP and measured the remaining variables. The target group was Blacks, and
respondents were non-Black undergraduates. The manipulation of AAP influenced judgments of
self-interest, fairness, and attitudes. The effect of the manipulation on attitudes was
completely mediated by the fairness judgments, but not by ratings of personal or
collective self-interest. The correlation between fairness ratings and attitude was .86.
In summary, these studies revealed that fairness perceptions and
attitudes toward affirmative action are closely related. Given the correlational nature of
the observed relations, it is impossible to determine the causal sequence. Finally, in all
six samples this relation was assessed at the operational level -- it dealt with specific
AAPs rather than with the general policy of affirmative action. There may also be a
positive relation between attitudes and perceived fairness of affirmative action in
principle, but this relation should be empirically tested.
Qualitative research shows that individuals think of affirmative action
in terms of fairness. Individuals distinguish between affirmative action in principle and
in practice, are sensitive to issues of procedural justice, and focus on implications for
equality of opportunity and reverse discrimination. Research on the structure of AAPs
revealed that ratings of fairness are inversely related to the weighting of demographic
status, and that attention to status at preliminary stages (e.g., recruitment) is
considered fairer than attention to status in final selection decisions. Selection
decisions are considered fairer when candidates with higher qualifications are selected.
Finally, attitudes toward an AAP are positively related to subsequent fairness judgments
of the AAP, and effects of an AAP manipulation on attitudes are mediated by fairness
Some of these results must be qualified. As will be discussed in more
detail later, several studies obtained interactions involving affirmative action
procedure, respondent gender, and/or respondent race (Heilman et al., 1991; Arthur et al.,
1992; Doverspike and Arthur, 1995; Gilliland and Haptonstahl, 1995). Same-gender
favoritism in evaluating the fairness of a promotion decision was reported by Saal and
Moore (1993), and such in-group favoritism is also likely to occur in evaluations of
affirmative action. Singer (1992) obtained evidence of egocentric bias; ratings of
fairness depended on whether the respondent acted as an observer (N = 222) or role-played
the majority candidate (N = 112). In short, reactions to specific AAPs vary as a function
of respondent gender and race/ethnicity. It is apparent that White males respond more
negatively than do other types of respondents to AAPs not based purely on merit. These
interactions may have been due to the effects of self-interest, which is addressed in the
following section. Despite these qualifications, it is clear that fairness judgments and
attitudes are closely related, and both are influenced by AAP structure.
Additional qualifications are suggested by research on individual and
situational determinants of attention to fairness. Gilliland and Haptonstahl (1995) found
that fairness judgments were most closely related to perceptions of equity when equity was
clearly satisfied (superior candidate is selected) or clearly violated (inferior candidate
is selected). Fairness judgments were most closely related to perceptions of equality when
decisions did not clearly satisfy or violate equity (candidates had equal qualifications).
Overall fairness ratings were significantly related to perceptions of need only when need
was clearly violated -- when the equally qualified minority candidate was not selected. In
related research, Rasinski (1987) developed a scale to assess individual differences in
the conceptualization of fairness. Whereas some people endorse the principle of
proportionality, others endorse egalitarianism. These two studies suggest that perceptions
of fairness and the importance of fairness will vary with individual differences and with
Finally, with few exceptions (Ayers, 1992; Edelman et al., 1993; Kravitz
& Van Epps, 1995; Tougas, Crosby et al., 1995), affirmative action studies that have
dealt with fairness judgments relied almost entirely on undergraduate respondents. Several
studies involved role-play scenarios (Arthur et al., 1992; Doverspike & Arthur, 1995;
Nacoste, 1985, 1987; Nacoste & Lehman, 1987), and some asked respondents to play an
unfamiliar role. There is a need for additional research on employees in organizations
(2) Implications for Personal and Collective Self-interest
A number of studies have revealed more positive attitudes among
individuals who feel their personal interests are being served by affirmative action
programs than among those who feel disadvantaged or threatened. For example, significant
correlations of attitudes toward AAPs and self-interest were obtained in a 1978 national
survey of 1,584 Whites (Jacobson, 1985) and a sample of over 450 employees in a large
Canadian firm (Tougas & Beaton, 1993). Similarly, in a study of 133 Hispanic
undergraduates, Kravitz and Meyer (1995) found that attitudes toward AAPs targeted at
Hispanics correlated significantly with rated implications for individual but not
collective self-interest. Attitudes toward affirmative action are clearly affected by
implications of affirmative action for the respondent's self-interest.
Other research dealt with more complex aspects of self-interest. Kluegel
and Smith (1983) distinguished between simple economic self-interest and cooperative
self-interest in their national survey. Cooperative self-interest refers to the belief
that AAPs designed to help others will indirectly help oneself. Results showed that both
simple and cooperative selfinterest were significantly related to attitudes toward
programs to hold a certain number of positions for qualified Blacks in colleges and in
Tougas and her colleagues extended the concept of self-interest from the
personal to the collective level, where collective self-interest refers to anticipated
effects on the respondent's demographic group. Tougas, Beaton, and Veilleux (1991) studied
197 women in a large Canadian firm, and included measures of both personal and collective
self-interest. They reported that the relationship between personal self-interest and
attitudes was moderated by two intervening variables: collective self-interest and
collective relative deprivation (to be discussed shortly). Tougas, Brown, Beaton, and Joly
(1995) studied male students and male employees in a Canadian firm with a strong AAP
targeted at women. They reported that attitudes toward the organization's AAP and
affirmative action in general were related to collective self-interest.
Three final studies addressed the question of whether the effect of AAP
structure on attitudes was mediated by self-interest. Kravitz (1995) found that personal
and collective self-interest partly mediated the effect of AAP structure on attitudes.
Nosworthy et al. (1995) found that measures of personal and collective self-interest
correlated strongly with attitudes toward each of four AAPs. However, when regression
equations included measures of racism and fairness along with self-interest, there was
only one significant effect of personal self-interest and none of collective
self-interest. Both Kravitz (1995) and Nosworthy et al. (1995) found that attitudes were
more closely related to judgments of fairness than to judgments of personal and collective
self-interest. Summers (1995) found that a significant gender difference in attitudes
toward affirmative action in general was fully mediated by anticipated effects of
affirmative action on the respondents' careers.
In summary, attitudes toward specific AAPs correlate with implications
of the AAPs for the respondent's personal and collective self-interest. Collective
self-interest appears to be less important than personal self-interest, and both are less
important than perceptions of fairness. The effect of AAP structure on attitudes is at
least partly mediated by judgments of self-interest.
Evaluations of affirmative action and AAPs are strongly influenced by
actual or presumed AAP structure; they are inversely related to the weighting of
demographic status in decision making. In addition, people respond more positively to
selection situations if the more qualified candidate is selected, regardless of
minority/majority status. Evaluations of merit selection are almost universally positive,
but evaluations of preferential treatment are moderated by such factors as respondent
race, gender, and self-efficacy. Although people support targeted recruitment and
training, they prefer to limit affirmative action to the elimination of discrimination.
These reactions appear to be mediated by perceptions of AAP fairness and implications of
the AAP for the respondent's personal and collective self-interest, with fairness being
3. Attempts to Influence Evaluations
Organizations with AAPs are required by law to communicate that fact.
They have considerable freedom, however, in how they justify the existence of the AAP and
in how much detail they describe the AAP. This information could influence reactions to
the program. More generally, attitudes toward the social policy of affirmative action may
be influenced by information provided to the public about affirmative action. That
conclusion would follow from the preceding review of research on AAP structure.
Gamson and Modigliani (1987) reviewed public discussions of affirmative
action in terms of discourse theory. They found that affirmative action had been
conceptualized in three ways: remedial action, delicate balance, and preferential
treatment. There were four versions of the preferential treatment conceptualization, with
the most common being reverse discrimination. The relative emphasis on these versions is
determined by sponsor activities (e.g., administration announcements), media practices,
and cultural resonances. While the remedial action conceptualization was most popular in
early years, by the mid-1980s it had been overtaken by preferential treatment.
Interestingly, although delicate balance probably best represents the public's reactions
to affirmative action, it has received little attention in public discourse. This neglect
is probably due to the lack of a sponsor. Since publication of this article, we would
argue that a fourth conceptualization of affirmative action has been added -- affirmative
action as a source of cultural diversity (e.g., Levi & Fried, 1994; Thomas, 1990).
Fine's (1992a) survey results relate to Gamson and Modigliani's (1987)
analysis. She found that White respondents' opposition to preferential treatment was
stronger when the reason for opposition was phrased as "it discriminates against
Whites" than when it was phrased as "it gives Blacks advantages they haven't
earned." She reported a nonsignificant trend in the same direction among Black
respondents. The difference in statistical significance may have been due to the fact that
the sample included 1,790 Whites but only 319 Blacks.
In summary, affirmative action is conceptualized and described in
various ways, and this is likely to influence attitudes. Most relevant research has dealt
with provision of structural details or justification, and we now turn to that work.
a. Providing Information About AAP Details
Fletcher and Chalmers (1991) sampled attitudes of Canadian citizens and
decision makers. The citizen sample included 2,084 people obtained in a 1987 nationwide
phone interview project using random digit dialing. The government decision-maker sample
included 513 elected legislators, 483 members of the executive branch (charged mainly with
enforcing the federal affirmative action laws), and 352 senior lawyers in the judiciary.
Fletcher and Chalmers asked their respondents about their attitudes toward AAPs targeted
at improving the number of women or the number of French-Canadians (an ethnic minority) in
top government positions. They found that providing Canadians with arguments contrary to
their initial positions caused most of them to say they would change their positions.
After being given an argument for the opposite position (i.e., "quotas mean not
hiring the best person" or "lack of quotas means that the target group remains
economically unequal"), respondents indicated whether they would change their
opinion. Of the citizens who initially opposed quotas, 49% said they would feel
differently; of the citizens who initially supported quotas, 64% said they would feel
differently. Expressed willingness to change was somewhat lower among the decision makers,
being 39% and 43%, respectively.
Bell (1996), in a study discussed previously, provided positive,
neutral, or negative pieces of information about AAPs to her 610 respondents. For Whites
only, the effect of information on AAP attitudes was in the hypothesized direction.
Negative information either strengthened or had no effect on the already positive
attitudes of Asians, Hispanics, and Blacks toward AAPs.
Taylor-Carter, Doverspike and Alexander (1995) used cognitive response
theory to predict effects of pro- and anti-affirmative action messages on ratings of AAP
fairness. After reporting their attitudes toward weak preferential treatment, respondents
read the message, recorded their thoughts about the message, predicted the importance of
affirmative action for their lives, and rated the fairness of preferential treatment.
Message polarity influenced the number of positive thoughts in the predicted direction,
but did not affect the number of negative thoughts. There were no effects of involvement,
contrary to prediction. Most importantly, regression analysis revealed that fairness
ratings were related as expected to initial attitude, message polarity, number of positive
thoughts, and number of negative thoughts. This indicates that perceived fairness of
preferential treatment (and, presumably, other affirmative action procedures) can be
affected by pro- or anti- affirmative action messages and the thoughts they stimulate.
In sum, these studies indicate that attitudes toward AAPs can be changed
by providing information about structural details of the AAP. This is consistent with
research on attitude change, and with research on effects of structural details on
attitudes toward affirmative action.
b. Justifying the AAP
Recent theory and research on justification of affirmative action has
considered two justifications. According to the compensation justification,
affirmative action exists to make up for previous discrimination against members of the
target group. This discrimination could have been societal (weak argument) or
organizational (strong argument). This justification is consistent with the remedial
action conceptualization mentioned by Gamson and Modigliani (1987), and relates to
research on the need for affirmative action. According to the instrumental
(cultural diversity) justification, affirmative action enhances organizational
effectiveness by increasing cultural diversity within the organization. Levi and Fried
(1994) point out that this latter argument also can vary in strength. For example, a weak
argument would be that increasing the number of minority employees improves the
organization's image. A strong argument would be that only a Hispanic individual could
serve as an undercover agent in a barrio.
Mann and Fasolo (1992) obtained 87 undergraduates' reactions to
concocted faculty hiring decisions in which the affirmative action justification
(compensation versus cultural diversity) was manipulated. Justification did not
significantly affect fairness ratings of the decision or of the policy. Similarly,
internal analysis revealed that ratings were not correlated with perceptions that the
college's rationale was compensation. On the other hand, internal analysis revealed that
both types of fairness ratings were positively correlated with respondent beliefs that the
college's rationale was cultural diversity.
Murrell, Dietz-Uhler, Dovidio, Gaertner, and Drout (1994) had 135 White
male and 202 White female undergraduates evaluate AAP scenarios that varied in terms of
the target group, justification, and setting. In two conditions the AAP was framed in
different ways but no justification was presented; in the other two conditions the AAP was
justified, with the justification involving either compensation or enhancing cultural
diversity. There was a significant effect of justification. Reactions were more positive
when a justification was presented (with no difference between justifications) than when
no justification was presented.
Matheson et al. (1994) asked 19 female police trainees to evaluate five
possible reactions to discrimination (AAPs) in a police department. Two reactions involved
strong preferential treatment which was justified in terms of reparation or the value of
diversity. Evaluation of these two AAPs did not differ significantly, and the similarity
of the means suggests that this nonsignificant effect was not simply due to a lack of
Bobocel and Farrell (1996; Experiment 2) asked 123 White male students
to read two cases, one of which described a male police officer who had filed a lawsuit
when an equally qualified woman was promoted instead of him. One independent variable was
level of justification: none versus compensation versus instrumental (increasing
diversity). Ratings of interactional fairness revealed a main effect of justification; the
None condition was evaluated more negatively than the other two conditions, which did not
differ. This effect was entirely mediated by the perceived adequacy of the justification.
In Heilman et al. (1996) 162 male undergraduates performing a one-way
communication task were told their female partner would be the leader because of her sex.
Two variables were manipulated: information about scores on an ability test, and
justification for the use of sex (none vs. compensation). Although the interaction was not
significant, post hoc tests suggested that justification affected fairness judgments only
when the male subjects believed their test performance had been equal to the female's.
Singer (1996) presented adults in New Zealand with a report on
affirmative action purportedly written by a panel of male or female experts. The panel
argued in favor of merit selection, preferential treatment, or diversity, and provided
arguments to support the position. The preferential treatment and diversity conditions
differed only in the term used to describe the procedure. Respondents reported their
attitudes toward merit selection and preferential treatment. Attitudes toward merit
selection were affected by the justification and the interaction of Justification X Panel
Gender. Attitudes toward merit selection were positive except when a panel of women argued
for preferential treatment, in which case they were neutral. Attitudes toward preferential
treatment were also affected by the justification, being neutral when the diversity
justification was used and negative otherwise.
Levi and Fried (1994) have developed a theoretical model in which
justification (referred to as affirmative action framing) plays a central role.
Briefly, acceptance of affirmative action by non-target group members is directly affected
by perceived justification of affirmative action. Perceived justification, in turn, is
directly affected by affirmative action framing (organizational justification), the extent
to which affirmative action is perceived as legitimate remediation, and the extent to
which ascribed characteristics are perceived as legitimate qualifications. Perceived
justification is also affected by the interactions of affirmative action framing with the
other two variables. Specifically, if respondents do not believe affirmative action is a
legitimate remediation (which will be affected by their ideology and beliefs about past
discrimination), they will respond very negatively to a compensatory framing. Similarly,
if respondents do not believe ascribed characteristics are legitimate qualifications
(which will be affected by their ideology and perceived contributions of ascribed
characteristics to the organization), they will respond very negatively to an instrumental
framing. This model merits empirical investigation.
In summary, both Murrell et al. (1994) and Bobocel and Farrell (1996)
found that providing a justification for affirmative action led to more positive
evaluations than did providing no justification. Heilman et al. (1996) found a similar
effect only when the male subject was told the female leader's score on an ability test
was identical to his own. This is consistent with theory and research on procedural
fairness (e.g., Cropanzano & Greenberg, in press). In four studies (Bobocel &
Farrell, 1996; Mann & Fasolo, 1992; Matheson et al. 1994; Murrell et al., 1994),
reactions to the compensation and instrumental justifications did not differ. On the other
hand, internal analysis in Mann and Fasolo (1992) suggested that people who believed
affirmative action to be instrumentally justified responded more positively. Also, Singer
(1996) found that reactions to preferential treatment were more positive when a panel of
experts had justified it in terms of diversity. Finally, the work of Murrell et al.
(1994), Heilman et al. (1996), Singer (1996), and Levi and Fried (1994) suggests that
reactions to different justifications may be moderated by other factors such as: the
source of information about the AAP; the AAP target; the AAP structure; and the
respondent's ideology, beliefs about the appropriateness of compensation, and beliefs
about whether diversity has any instrumental value.
As implied by research on AAP structure, attitudes toward affirmative
action can be changed by providing individuals with information about the AAP. Attitudes
of ordinary citizens appear to be more flexible than those of government decision makers,
presumably because the former have devoted less cognitive energy to the issue. Consistent
with research on fairness, attitudes toward AAPs are more positive when the AAP is
justified. The specific justification does not strongly affect attitudes, perhaps because
such effects are moderated by other variables.
4. Identity of Target Group
Fletcher and Chalmers (1991), discussed above, found that attitudes of
both citizens and decision makers were more negative toward AAPs targeted at French
Canadians than toward AAPs targeted at women. In an interaction of Target X Respondent,
however, the effect of target group was observed only among the majority Canadians; the
French-Canadians rated affirmative action toward women and French-Canadians equally.
Sniderman, Piazza, Tetlock, and Kendrick (1991) surveyed 709 White
adults in the San Francisco Bay area. They were asked how much the government should do to
ensure equal opportunity for women or for Blacks and minorities. The target was
manipulated between groups. Both liberals and conservatives were more supportive of
government intervention when women were the target group. Further analyses revealed that
this target effect was significant among the respondents with a high school degree or
less, but was not significant among the college graduates. Among respondents with some
college, the target effect was significant among conservatives but not liberals.
Clayton (1992) provides a brief report of a relevant study, in which
respondents were told that a fictitious company had either 40% women or 25% minority
employees. In addition, respondents either were or were not told that the company was
trying to recruit more employees of the same type. Respondents estimated their chances of
being treated fairly by the company. These ratings were affected by the interaction of
category type by presence/absence of recruitment. Responses were most positive when the
company with 40% female employees was trying to recruit more women, and were most negative
when the company with 25% minority employees was trying to recruit more minorities.
Kravitz and Platania (1993) randomly assigned respondents to conditions
in which they read descriptions of one of three different AAPs. These AAPs differed only
with respect to their target: women, minorities, or the handicapped. The sample of
undergraduates was diverse in terms of gender and race/ethnicity. Results showed that
overall attitude toward AAPs did not differ across the three target groups. Analyses of
the individual components of an AAP yielded a few target group differences. Respondents
were less opposed to hiring someone who was unqualified when that person was handicapped
rather than a minority. In an interaction of Target X Respondent, the possibility of
requiring all organizations to have an AAP was seen equally negatively across targets by
males, but was seen as more positive by females if the target group was the handicapped
rather than minorities.
Kravitz et al. (1994) surveyed employed adults in the Miami area by
telephone, asking questions about AAPs targeted at Hispanics or Blacks. Of the 60
respondents, 23 were Black, 24 were Hispanic, and 13 were White. Target group had no main
effect on overall attitudes toward the AAP, but it did interact with respondent ethnicity:
respondents were more positive about AAPs targeted at their own ethnic group.
Murrell et al. (1994), discussed above, assessed undergraduates'
reactions to AAP scenarios that varied in target group, justification, and setting.
Respondents had significantly more negative attitudes toward AAPs directed at Blacks than
at either the elderly or the handicapped. This effect was heightened by lack of
justification for the AAP, in that AAPs described without justification and targeted at
Blacks were seen more negatively than any other combination of target and justification (a
significant element of a marginally significant interaction of Target X Justification).
Gilliland and Haptonstahl (1995) asked 180 undergraduates to evaluate
four scenarios that described a selection decision involving a target and non-target group
member. The respondents varied in terms of gender and race/ethnicity. The target group
member was a woman, an African-American, or wheelchair-confined. Gilliland and Haptonstahl
did not observe a main effect of target, but did find a significant three-way interaction
of Respondent Race X Scenario X Target that was consistent with self-interest.
In two studies of undergraduates at different colleges (s = 71 and 119),
Clayton (in press) asked her respondents to rate the appropriateness of using information
about various attributes (race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, major) for different
purposes, one of which was the promotion of diversity in admissions (affirmative action).
The interaction of attribute by purpose was significant. In both studies it appears that
opposition the use of information for diversity purposes was strongest when the
information dealt with religion and sexual orientation, next strongest when it involved
race, and weakest when the information concerned college major and gender.
In summary, the target group of an AAP appears to influence AAP
attitudes. Programs directed at Blacks or minorities are viewed less positively by Whites
than programs directed at women or the handicapped. Reasons for this difference are
unclear, though results demonstrates that it may be moderated by details of the AAP and by
respondent education, political perspective, gender, and race/ethnicity. Smith and Kluegel
(1984) surveyed 1,507 English-speaking residents of the U.S., and found that the public
believes women suffer more from discrimination than do Blacks. This could also play a role
in the effect of target group on attitudes. Results of several studies suggested effects
of ingroup-outgroup differences or self-interest, and research discussed above has shown
that self-interest considerations influence attitudes. Eberhardt and Fiske (1994) discuss
several intriguing and reasonable hypotheses that might account for the effect of target,
as do Taylor-Carter, Doverspike, and Cook (1995). Other portions of this review cover the
constructs proposed in these hypotheses and frameworks.
The effect of setting on attitude toward AAPs has been investigated in
several studies. In their national survey of Whites, Kluegel and Smith (1983) described
two affirmative action programs to all respondents. One program involved college
admissions and the other involved hiring employees; both were described as programs in
which a "certain number of positions would be set aside for Blacks and other
minorities." A reanalysis of their data reveals greater support for set-asides in
education than in business.
Bobo and Smith (1994) summarize responses to the 1986, 1988, and 1990
National Election Study (NES) surveys. These surveys included representative samples of
American adults. Among White respondents, support for quotas in education (24.1% to 30.9%)
was clearly higher than support for preferential hiring and promotions in employment
(10.7% to 17.5%). In 1986 and 1988, a higher percent of Black respondents supported quotas
in education (74.8% and 82.6%, respectively) than preferential hiring and promotions in
employment (61.2% and 65.1%, respectively). In 1990, in contrast, Blacks' support for
preferential treatment in employment (74.8%) was slightly higher than support for quotas
in education (73.5%). Unfortunately, differences in question phrasing (quotas in
education, preferential treatment in employment) make it difficult to interpret
Fletcher and Chalmers (1991) examined organizational setting as a
possible influence on attitudes toward AAPs and quotas among Canadian citizens and
government decision makers. The researchers did a within-subject comparison of attitudes
toward gender-based quotas in the Canadian federal government and in large, private
companies. There was greater support of AAPs for government positions in all subsamples.
The difference was especially pronounced for the decision-maker subsamples (a Role X
Setting interaction). Unfortunately, this setting difference was confounded with a small
but important difference in question wording. Questions about AAPs in the private sector
used the politically charged word "quotas" while questions about AAPs in the
public sector did not.
Fine (1992a) analyzed opinion survey data from a 1986 national
probability sample of adults in the U. S. (319 Blacks and 1,790 Whites). More Blacks and
Whites favored preferential treatment in colleges and universities (74% and 22%,
respectively) than in hiring and promotions (68% and 17%, respectively). Unfortunately,
the questions were phrased differently, with the former including the loaded term
Kinder and Sanders (1990) manipulated organizational setting in a
telephone survey using a national probability sample of voting age citizens (N = 380).
Using a within-subjects design, they described general AAPs targeted at Blacks in
employment (hiring and promotion) decisions and in college admissions decisions. There was
no effect of setting on attitudes toward AAPs.
In the study by Murrell et al. (1994) described above, there were no
main effects or interactions involving setting. This study included three settings:
business, college, social organization. Finally, in Study 1 of Matheson et al. (1994) the
social domain (education versus employment) did not affect reactions to the four AAPs.
In summary, the organizational setting of an AAP seems to have limited
influence on AAP attitudes, either as a main effect or in conjunction with other
variables. Affirmative action may receive more support in education than in employment,
but despite large samples this difference was statistically significant in only three of
the six relevant studies. Furthermore, in two of these studies the setting was confounded
with the description of affirmative action (e.g., quotas versus preferential treatment).
6. Need for Affirmative Action
No studies were found that examined relationships between objective need
for affirmative action programs and affirmative action attitudes, if objective need is
operationalized in terms of economic indicators and utilization ratios. A number of
studies, however, dealt with the organization's reported history of discrimination. If we
assume that a history of discrimination implies a need for affirmative action, this
research is relevant. Other work has assessed respondents' perceptions of the need for
Nacoste (1985, 1987; Nacoste & Lehman, 1987) asked female
undergraduates to play the role of a female professor who received a grant when competing
with a male professor. In these studies Nacoste manipulated the organization's reported
history of discrimination, along with procedural and qualification variables. These
studies included numerous dependent variables, with ratings of fairness of procedure and
decision being most relevant to the question of attitudes. In no case were there any
significant effects involving the history manipulation.
In Kravitz and Platania (1992, 1993), discussed above, undergraduates
evaluated potential components of AAPs. One component was that AAPs would be designed to
compensate for previous discrimination. This component received a neutral evaluation in
the 1992 study and a positive evaluation in the 1993 study. Kravitz et al. (1994) employed
a similar procedure in a telephone survey of employed adults, most respondents being Black
or Hispanic. These respondents favored requiring organizations with histories of
discrimination to target AAPs at the group (Blacks or Hispanics) that had been victimized.
In his analysis of data from a national survey of Whites, Jacobson (1985) found that
support for affirmative action was significantly related to the belief that Blacks
experienced discrimination in a variety of areas.
Matheson et al. (1994) manipulated the extent of prior discrimination in
two scenario studies with female undergraduate respondents. The three levels were: (a)
only males would be considered; (b) females would be considered only if no qualified males
were available; (c) when qualifications were equivalent, the male would be preferred to
the female. The authors hypothesized that respondents would prefer AAPs that precisely
matched the level of prior discrimination -- an interaction between the discrimination and
AAP manipulations. In both studies the interaction was nonsignificant. Furthermore, the
main effect of discrimination also was not significant: Evaluations of the possible
reactions (AAPs) were not affected by the level of prior discrimination.
Although results have been mixed, this research suggests that people may
support certain kinds of affirmative action if they believe past discrimination warrants
it. It follows that opposition to affirmative action could be based on the belief that
discrimination does not exist. Kluegel (1985, 1990) reviewed large national surveys
completed between 1972 and 1989, and concluded that most White Americans attribute Blacks'
economic disadvantages to personal rather than structural factors. That is, they believe
the problem is that Blacks lack motivation and skills, not that they lack opportunities.
Bobo and Kluegel (1993) reported the results of a national survey of 159 Blacks and 1,150
Whites. They found that perceived discrimination and attributions of the Black-White gap
in socio-economic status to motivational causes were two of the strongest predictors of
support for policies designed to enhance the opportunities and incomes of Blacks, though
none of the policy items referred to affirmative action per se. A study by Witt (1990) is
relevant to this issue. She asked 492 university faculty whether minority of female status
constituted an advantage or disadvantage for each of 15 career dimensions. Ratings given
by White faculty were significantly higher than those given by Black faculty when
considering the role of minority status (all 15 dimensions) and female status (12 of 15
dimensions). In the case of minority status, inspection of the means is suggestive. For
the key dimensions (initial selection, salary, tenure, promotion) means given by the
Whites were above the scale midpoint and means given by Blacks were below the scale
midpoint. Minority status has negative effects via discrimination and positive effects via
affirmative action. Apparently the White faculty believed the positive effects of
affirmative action outweighed the negative effects of discrimination, whereas the Black
faculty believed the opposite. Support for affirmative action is likely to be decreased
when people believe it overcompensates for discrimination.
In sum, there is no research on the relation between objective measures
of need and attitudes toward AAPs. Limited research suggests that respondents are somewhat
more likely to support affirmative action if they believe or are told that the target
group has suffered discrimination. These results, however, have been inconsistent. Survey
research suggests that many White Americans believe discrimination is a problem of the
past, and that Blacks have themselves to blame for their economic disadvantages. Other
research finds that Whites believe minorities profit more from affirmative action than
they are hurt by discrimination. A related finding based on respondent beliefs about
discrimination is addressed below where we discuss research on relative deprivation. This
emphasis on need is consistent with court decisions, which have emphasized that AAPs
should be remedial (Newman, 1989).
Attitudes toward affirmative action and AAPs are strongly influenced by
structural factors. Details of the AAP (weighting of demographic status) appear to have
the strongest effect on attitudes, and this effect is mediated at least partly by
implications for fairness and self-interest. Attitudes are more positive when the AAP is
justified and when evidence indicates that affirmative action is needed. Reactions tend to
be less positive when the target group is a racial minority. Organizational setting has
little effect on evaluations.
C. Individual Differences Bases (Respondent Dimensions)
The research described above has focused on structural aspects of the
situation and of the AAP. Other research has addressed the role of individual differences.
The implicit assumption in much of this work is that individual differences will affect a
person's attitude toward affirmative action in general, and this in turn will affect the
person's attitudes toward specific AAPs. This research has included the respondent's role,
demographic variables, prejudice, relative deprivation, and ideology. When considering
this research it is important to realize that it, like all passive observation research,
does not permit strong causal conclusions.
1. Respondent Role
Two straightforward characterizations of a respondent's role have
received some investigation. The first deals with differences between those who make
decisions about or administer AAPs versus those who do not. The second characterization of
role deals with differences between those who are members of the target group of an AAP
and those who are not. We discuss these two areas in turn.
a. Decision Makers Versus Others
Noble and Winett (1978) surveyed approximately 60 department chairs and
100 hirees for faculty positions at the University of Kentucky between 1974 and 1976. They
provided no demographic data for the chairs, but reported that 73% of the hirees were male
and 96% were White. They found no differences between the department chairs and the hirees
in their support for hiring minority members or women for a faculty position if the
candidate was as well qualified as a White male (50% reported positive attitudes). They
also found no differences across the two roles in their support for hiring a lesser
qualified female or minority member.
In their study of women at a liberal arts college, Goldsmith et al.
(1989) compared AAP attitudes of 15 students, 15 faculty, 17 staff members, and 15
administrators. The researchers found no differences in AAP attitudes across the four
role-based groups, using either questionnaire items or coded statements from interview
Tickamyer, Scollay, Bokemeier, and Wood (1989) explored attitudes about
the need for AAPs in university settings. Ninety-one percent of 150 university affirmative
action officers thought that some (undefined) steps needed to be taken to increase numbers
of underrepresented groups, and 62% were positive about setting specific hiring goals.
Seventy-four percent of the 1,900 other university administrators were positive about
taking some steps, and only 22% supported specific hiring goals.
Fletcher and Chalmers (1991) made several comparisons of AAP attitudes
among Canadian citizens and government decision makers. Citizen and decision-maker
attitudes toward gender-based quotas in industry were similar. When the decision-maker
sample was split into legislative, executive, and judicial subsamples, however, important
differences emerged. Law-makers were more positive than the citizenry, and members of the
judicial branch were more negative. Members of the executive branch had intermediate
attitudes, matching the level of the general population. Both citizens and decision makers
reported they would change their opinions when given an argument contrary to their initial
opinion, but citizens were more likely than decision makers to state they would change.
Few general conclusions can be drawn from this research. It seems likely
that the strongest support for affirmative action will be observed among those whose jobs
involve the maintenance of AAPs (Tickamyer et al., 1989). Furthermore, attitudes of
decision makers who have thought the issue through are likely to be less flexible than
attitudes of typical citizens (Fletcher & Chalmers, 1991).
b. Target Group Members Versus Non-members
Another characterization of role involves differences between those who
are members of the target group of an AAP and those who are not. Classification of
respondents into target member versus non-target member simplifies interpretation of some
of the two-way interactions to be discussed in the next subsection. Simply put, persons
are more positive toward AAPs that are targeted at their own demographic group. This trend
is clear and strong for ethnicity, but is somewhat less strong for gender. This effect of
target-respondent match can be explained in terms of collective or personal self-interest.
2. Demographic variables
a. Gender and Race/Ethnicity
Numerous studies have examined differences in AAP attitudes associated
with respondents' gender or ethnicity. Many of these studies focused on other questions
and have been discussed above. In these cases we limit the present discussion to results
involving respondent gender or ethnicity. All results mentioned below are significant at
the .05 level, although effect sizes varied. If a potential difference is not mentioned,
it was not statistically significant. We begin by reviewing studies that assessed only
race differences, then turn to studies that assessed only gender differences, and end with
studies that dealt with both variables.
We begin with survey research. Lipset and Schneider (1978) summarized
some of the earliest data regarding race-based differences in attitudes toward AAPs.
Citing a New York Times/CBS News survey carried out in 1977, they noted that Blacks were
much more positive than Whites toward four versions of affirmative action. The programs
included hiring "a certain number of minority workers," "give special
consideration to minority applicants" to college or graduate school, "requiring
large companies to set up special training programs for members of minority groups,"
and a school "reserving a certain number of places for qualified minority
applicants." Sigelman and Welch (1991) also analyzed many national surveys of
attitudes toward affirmative action. They concluded that support for equal opportunity,
affirmative action in general, preferential treatment, and quotas was higher among Blacks
than Whites. In the Kinder and Sanders (1990) survey described earlier, AAPs in employment
were strongly favored by 64% of the Black respondents and 6% of the White respondents.
Affirmative action plans in college admissions were strongly supported by 63% of the Black
respondents and 9% of the White respondents. Strong differences were also obtained in
Fine's (1992a) nationwide probability survey, discussed above. The proportion of Blacks
favoring AAPs in employment and education was more than three times the proportion of
Whites favoring these programs. Bobo and Smith (1994) reviewed responses to the 1986,
1988, and 1990 National Election Study (NES) surveys. In 1990, support for quotas in
education was reported by 31% of Whites and 74% of Blacks; support for preferential hiring
and promotions was reported by 18% of Whites and 75% of Blacks. Large race differences
were also apparent in the two previous surveys. Sherman, Smith, and Sherman (1983)
reported a study of Maryland undergraduates' reactions to a fictitious court case
involving promotion decisions. Of the 175 students involved, 106 were Black and 69 were
White. Attitudes toward the use of "racial quotas . . . in promotions
and/or hirings" were more positive among Black than White respondents. In summary,
these many surveys reveal that affirmative action plans of all types receive more support
from Blacks than from Whites.
Arthur et al. (1992) asked volunteer respondents to play the role of a
student who had been awarded a prestigious graduate fellowship. In the equally qualified
condition, participants read that both candidates were equally qualified for the position.
In the less qualified condition, participants read that the recipient of the fellowship
was less qualified than the other candidate. Participants read that the fellowship was
either awarded (a) primarily on the basis of gender, or (b) on the basis of gender as long
as the recipients had the necessary qualifications. Of the respondents, 106 were White,
116 were minority group members (split evenly between Blacks and Hispanics, although
analyses did not differentiate the two groups), and 49 were international students.
International students reported more positive affect in role-played responses to the
scenarios than did Whites. Minority students' affect fell between the two, but did not
differ significantly from either. Another dependent variable, agreement with the decision,
could reasonably be construed as attitude toward the AAP (the AAP was the basis for the
fellowship decision). There was no main effect of ethnicity on agreement, but there was a
significant interaction of Ethnicity X Structure on this variable. AAP structure had a
larger effect among members of minority groups than among Whites. AAP structure had no
effect on attitude of international students.
We turn now to research that dealt with gender differences only. In
their study of women at a liberal arts college, discussed above, Goldsmith et al. (1989)
found significantly more positive attitudes toward affirmative action among women than
men. This difference was observed in respondents' self-reported attitudes and
interviewers' ratings of respondents' attitudes. These comparisons were limited to the 47
faculty, staff, and administrator respondents because all student respondents were women.
Singer (1993) reported that undergraduate females were more positive than males about an
AAP in which the gender ("female-ness") of the candidate was given strong
weight. In a study of American and Japanese undergraduates, Ozawa et al. (1996) found that
women had more positive attitudes than men in response to two procedures, merit hiring and
quota hiring following a minimum standard. The women also responded more negatively to the
case of gender discrimination used in the scenario.
Tougas and Beaton (1993) studied AAP attitudes among 185 female and 277
male employees at a large Canadian company with a history of discrimination against women,
as well as repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to increase the percentage of women in the
workforce. The researchers sent a questionnaire describing the company's history and its
attempts to redress discrimination to roughly 1000 employees. Males and females did not
differ in their attitudes toward AAPs that had the goal of "eliminating systematic
barriers" to women. However, females were more positive than males about AAPs that
gave "preferential treatment" to females (i.e., that gave preference to women
when they were of equal competence as men). In a somewhat contradictory finding, Murrell
et al. (1994) found that women were more negative about specific AAPs than were men. Women
were especially negative when the AAPs had no explicit justification (a Gender X
Summers' (1995) respondents evaluated affirmative action in general and
three specific AAPs. They also rated the likely effect of affirmative action in general on
their careers (self-interest). Summers found a significant gender difference in attitudes
toward affirmative action in general. Men and women did not differ significantly in their
evaluations toward a special training program (both positive) or differential scoring of
selection tests (both negative), but did differ in their evaluations of a quota system.
Women evaluated quotas more positively than did men. In summary, results of these four
studies are somewhat mixed. In five studies women had more positive attitudes toward at
least some AAPs. In one study women had more negative attitudes. The gender difference
appears to be moderated by AAP structure and possibly justification, and may be mediated
by self-interest implications.
Finally, many studies have assessed both race and gender differences. In
Fletcher and Chalmers' (1991) study, French Canadians had more positive attitudes than did
majority Canadians. Gender was not related to attitudes toward AAPs.
Kravitz and Platania (1992) assessed attitudes towards a race-based AAP.
The sample of undergraduates contained 66 females and 25 males, as well as two people who
did not report their gender. Twelve of the respondents were Hispanic, 19 were Black, and
56 were White. Females were more positive than males about the AAP. Blacks were more
positive than Whites, with the mean for Hispanics falling between those two but not
differing significantly from either. There were several gender and ethnicity differences
in evaluations of the potential structural components, including: quotas (gender &
ethnicity differences), weighting of race in employment decisions (ethnicity difference),
training programs (gender and ethnicity differences), recruitment (ethnicity difference),
and providing workforce composition data to the federal government (ethnicity difference).
All gender differences were due to greater support among women than among men. All
ethnicity differences were due to greater support among Blacks than Whites, with support
among Hispanics generally falling between the other two groups.
Kravitz and Platania (1993; N = 349) found more positive attitudes
toward AAPs in general among female than male undergraduates. Black and Hispanic
respondents were more positive than White respondents towards AAPs. There were no
interactions of respondent and target group characteristics for AAP attitude. However,
there were important gender and ethnicity differences involving evaluations of the
structural components of potential AAPs. Significant differences included: quotas (gender
and ethnicity differences), weighting of demographic status (ethnicity difference),
training (gender and ethnicity differences), recruitment (gender and ethnicity
differences), requiring AAPs of all organizations (gender and ethnicity differences),
using AAPs to eliminate discrimination (gender difference), providing workforce
composition data in an AAP to the federal government (gender difference), and using AAPs
to compensate groups for past discrimination (gender and ethnicity differences). Once
again, all gender differences were due to greater support among women than among men; all
ethnicity differences were due to greater support among Blacks than Whites, with support
among Hispanics generally being between the other two groups.
Kravitz et al. (1994) surveyed 60 Miami-area residents about their
attitudes toward affirmative action targeted at Blacks or Hispanics. They found that males
were more positive than females. Blacks and Hispanics each evaluated AAPs more positively
if they were targeted at their own ethnic group rather than the other group.
Doverspike and Arthur (1995) explored gender and ethnicity (Black versus
White) differences in a role-playing study in a data set drawn in part from Arthur et al.
(1992). The 235 undergraduate respondents role-played a same-sex Black applicant who was
awarded a fellowship. The applicant's qualifications were said to be equal or inferior to
those of the other finalist, and the AAP was said to involve reverse discrimination or
preferential treatment. Respondents rated the fairness of the procedure and decision.
Fairness ratings varied with respondent gender and race, and each of these main effects
was qualified by an interaction with applicant qualification. Females were more affected
by the qualification manipulation than were males. Blacks were less affected by the
qualification manipulation than were Whites, but this difference was much larger in the
preferential treatment AAP than in the reverse discrimination AAP (a Race X Qualifications
X AAP interaction). Finally, there was a Sex X Race X Qualifications interaction: The race
difference was smaller in the condition involving male respondents and equal
qualifications than in the other three conditions.
Gilliland and Haptonstahl (1995) found that fairness ratings of four
selection scenarios varied as a function of respondent gender and minority status. Males
provided higher fairness ratings than did females for the scenario in which the majority
candidate was selected instead of the equally-qualified minority candidate. Nonminorities
provided higher fairness ratings than did minorities for the scenario in which the
more-qualified majority candidate was selected.
Kravitz (1995) reported a study of respondent reactions to eight AAPs
targeted at Blacks. Undergraduate respondents varied in terms of gender (47 male and 128
female) and race/ethnicity (84 Hispanic, 75 non-Hispanic Whites, 16 other). Blacks were
excluded for both methodological and substantive reasons. There were no significant
effects of gender or ethnicity (Hispanic versus White) on overall attitude toward AAPs.
Konrad and Linnehan (1995b) studied managers' attitudes toward
identity-conscious and identity-blind policies that a firm might adopt. The scales,
therefore, can be seen as representing AAPs that either did or did not assign a weight to
demographic status. They compared responses of White men (n = 81), White women (n = 76),
People of Color (racial minorities; n = 85), and African Americans (n = 50, a subset of
People of Color). They obtained no differences in attitudes toward identity-blind
procedures. However, Blacks (and People of Color) had more positive attitudes than Whites
toward the identity-conscious procedures. Among Whites, women responded more positively
than men to such procedures. These differences remained even after controlling for the
type of organization from which the respondents were drawn.
Bell et al. (1996) studied 326 undergraduates and managers, and found
that attitudes toward AAPs were more positive among women than among men, There was also
an effect of race, with Blacks being most positive, Asians and Hispanics being next most
positive, and Whites being least positive. Additional analyses, however, revealed that the
significant effects of gender and race were fully mediated by the respondents' beliefs
about affirmative action and evaluations thereof. In a subsequent study involving 610
students and employees, Bell (1996) obtained similar effects of respondent gender and
race, but these effects were only partly (80%) mediated by the respondents beliefs and
evaluations of those beliefs.
In summary, Blacks clearly feel more positively about AAPs in general
than do Whites, though the size of this difference depends on details of the AAP.
Attitudes of Hispanics fall somewhere between Blacks and Whites. It should also be noted
that Hispanics are not a monolithic ethnic group. Cuban-Americans may have notably
different attitudes than Mexican-Americans, or those from Puerto Rico. Moreover, apart
from the Bell et al. (1995) and Bell (1996 studies, there are no data in the literature
reviewed on the attitudes of Asian Americans or Native Americans. Similar caveats about
assuming homogeneous attitudes within those ethnic groups apply as well. The research by
Bell et al. suggests that the race differences are largely due to differences in beliefs
about affirmative action and evaluations of those beliefs.
Finally, there are also gender differences in attitudes toward AAPs. In
studies in which respondents (especially White respondents) are asked about AAPs in
general, women generally have more positive attitudes than men. Those gender effects are
also likely to be moderated by the structural properties (details of the AAP and
justification for the AAP) of the AAP being studied; women tend to be more responsive to
these factors than do men. Of greater interest is the question of why gender differences
exist. Once again, the research by Bell et al. suggests that the gender differences are
largely due to differences in beliefs about affirmative action and evaluations of those
beliefs. Research by Ozawa et al. (1996) suggests that perceptions of the severity of
discrimination could serve as the mediator, and research by Summers (1995) suggests that
the mediator could be self-interest. Clearly more work is needed on the boundary
conditions and reasons for race and gender differences.
b. Other Demographic Variables
A number of studies have included demographic variables such as age,
education, and income as predictors of affirmative action attitudes. Demographic variables
have been of interest because they are thought to reflect underlying factors such as
socialization (in the case of age, education, region of the country, and city size),
social status (education and income), selfinterest (income), potential for having
personal experience with unequal treatment (race, gender, men married to working women),
and even cognitive complexity (education). In some cases, researchers state specific
hypotheses regarding demographic variables (e.g., Fine, 1992b). More commonly, demographic
variables are used in an exploratory fashion or as control variables, with no specific
hypotheses being stated.
Research on demographic variables can be categorized along two
methodological dimensions. One dimension is the type of respondents surveyed (general
public versus specific population). The second dimension is the type of statistical
analysis performed (multiple regression versus oneway analysis of variance). Studies of
the general public have employed largescale national opinion surveys, while studies of
specific populations have been done with groups as diverse as public personnel
administrators (Davis & West, 1984), university administrators and affirmative action
officers (Tickamyer et al., 1989), and social workers in Texas (Stout & Buffum, 1993).
Studies that have assessed attitudes of the general public have used multiple regression
analyses and have assessed the relative contribution of both demographic and attitudinal
variables to the prediction of affirmative action attitudes. In contrast, most studies of
attitudes within specific populations have used oneway analysis of variance. The
exception was Davis and West (1984) who used a measure of association called gamma. The
methodology used has implications for the ability to draw conclusions about the
statistical significance of effects, about the size of the effects, and about
generalizability of the effects.
(1) Surveys of the General Public
Three studies using general opinion surveys included demographic
characteristics among the predictor variables. Kluegel and Smith (1983) assessed attitudes
of 1,596 Whites, selected from a 1980 opinion poll, toward affirmative action directed at
Blacks and minorities. They presented separate analyses for each of their four attitude
questions. The effect of respondent age was nonsignificant in all cases. There were,
however, significant interactions of age with employment variables such as the extent of
segregation in the respondent's industry. In two analyses there were significant
regression weights of education. More educated respondents were less likely to report that
preferential treatment was fair and that affirmative action programs should be supported.
In the other two analyses, regression weights of income were significant. Respondents with
higher incomes were less likely to agree that colleges and employers should set aside
positions for qualified Blacks and minorities. [Kluegel and Smith's verbal descriptions of
the income results appear inconsistent with the regression weights, so the directions of
the effects are not entirely clear. The descriptions in this paragraph are taken from
Kluegel and Smith's verbal descriptions.]
Jacobson (1984) reports results from a 1978 survey of 1,584 White
respondents. Attitudes toward affirmative action were not related to income. Attitudes
were related to occupation, age, and education. The relation of attitudes with age was
complex. Attitudes appeared most positive among college graduates and least positive among
high school graduates; the other two categories were those with less than a high school
degree and those with some college.
Fine (1992b), drew a sample of AfricanAmericans from a 1986 national
postelection survey. None of her four dependent variables explicitly dealt with support
for affirmative action, but two of them seem relevant. Respondents were asked to indicate
the extent of their agreement with statements that: (1) it is not the government's job to
guarantee equal opportunity for Blacks and Whites (N = 313), and (2) Blacks should
overcome prejudice without any special favors (N = 156). When responses to these items
were regressed on demographic and core value variables, regression weights of age,
education, and income were all nonsignificant.
(2) Surveys of Specific Populations
Davis and West (1984) surveyed a national sample of public personnel
managers during 1979. They measured several demographic characteristics and environmental
characteristics (e.g., city size). Dependent variables were commitment to affirmative
action and to equal employment opportunity. Neither age nor education was significantly
associated with commitment to affirmative action. Age, but not education, was
significantly associated with commitment to equal opportunity, with the youngest managers
displaying the lowest levels of commitment.
Tickamyer et al. (1989) surveyed 1,894 university administrators and 148
university affirmative action officers. The survey included four questions about the need
for EO/AAPs at their colleges and universities. Among the administrators, age (four
groups) was significantly associated with responses to all four need questions. For two
questions, perceived need decreased with age; for the other two questions the relation was
nonlinear. Among the affirmative action officers, there were no significant relations
between age and perceived need.
Stout and Buffum (1993) measured the commitment to affirmative action of
193 Texas social workers. They found significant effects for job position and membership
classification. Because statistical tests of mean differences were not reported, it is not
possible to report which groups were different from one another. Commitment was higher
among those who identified themselves as members of a "sexual minority," but was
not associated with level of highest social work degree.
Researchers have used a variety of individual characteristics in
attempting to account for attitudes related to affirmative action. Age, education, and
income have been studied most consistently, but many other characteristics have been
investigated on occasion. These studies show that, in the majority of cases, demographic
factors other than gender and race/ethnicity contribute little or nothing to predictions
of attitudes related to affirmative action. In the few cases in which the effects
associated with these variables reached statistical significance, the effects were quite
small and sometimes nonlinear.
Two studies assessed the relations among AAP, self-efficacy, and
fairness perceptions. In both cases, undergraduates were told they had been selected
either on the basis of merit or on the basis of gender.
Hattrup (1994) found that fairness judgments were affected by the
interaction of selection procedure and self-efficacy. Fairness ratings of preferential
treatment were minimally related to self-efficacy; virtually everyone considered it
unfair. Fairness ratings of merit selection were positively related to respondent
self-efficacy; more confident respondents considered their selection fairer. In Brutus and
Ryan (1994), ratings of fairness correlated positively with self-efficacy measured before
and after selection, and with self-evaluation of performance. Fairness ratings did not
correlate with performance in either study.
In summary, AAP structure, perceived fairness, and self-efficacy are
complexly interrelated. We are not aware of research involving more traditional
dispositional variables. Given the relation between prejudice (discussed below) and
dogmatism, it is possible that research on dogmatism would yield interesting results.
4. Opinion Variables
a. Prejudice (Racism and Sexism)
Fernandez (1981) defined [anti-Black] racism "as basic cultural
ideologies that state that Whites . . . are inherently superior to minorities . . . solely
on the basis of race . . . and that Whites have the power over social institutions to
develop, evolve, nurture, spread, impose, and enforce the very myths and stereotypes that
are basic to the foundation of racism" (p. 303). Sidanius, Pratto, and Bobo (1996)
refer to this assumption of Black inferiority as classic racism, and distinguish it from
anti-Black affect. Other theorists have suggested that such forms of racism have been
supplanted by modern forms. For example, aversive racism is said to be a combination of
racial prejudice and an egalitarian ideology (Dovidio, Mann, & Gaertner, 1989;
Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986). Symbolic racism, in contrast, is said to be a combination
of racial prejudice and a conservative ideology (Kinder, 1986; McConahay, 1982; McConahay
& Hough, 1976; Sears, 1988). The concept of symbolic racism has been critiqued by
Sniderman and Tetlock (1986b; see also Bobo & Kluegel, 1993; Kinder, 1986; Sniderman
et al., 1991; Sniderman & Tetlock, 1986a), and some of their criticisms apply to
aversive racism. One problem with the concepts of modern racism particularly relevant to
the present review is that opposition to affirmative action is taken as an indicant of
modern racism; as such, it is meaningless to ask whether modern racism leads to
opposition. Research examining symbolic and aversive racism does not examine the
conditions under which these values do or do not constitute a convenient racist surrogate.
Some evidence (Kluegel, 1990) suggests that the fundamental attribution error may augment
or enhance symbolic racism. In addition, Murrell et al. (1994) have suggested that it is
not possible to assess aversive racism through self-report measures. In summary, there is
considerably disagreement about how racism should be conceptualized, and an equal level of
inconsistency in how it is operationalized.
Despite this disagreement, research has consistently found that
self-report measures of racism are positively associated with opposition to affirmative
action targeted at racial minorities. Using data from the national Harris opinion survey
of 1978, Jacobson (1985) found that symbolic and overt racism predicted attitudes toward
AAPs. In their national survey of Whites, Kluegel and Smith (1983) found that a two-item
scale of symbolic racism was associated with attitudes toward affirmative action in
education and business. Kravitz (1995) found that racism was associated with opposition to
affirmative action in general and to specific AAPs.
Nosworthy et al. (1995) argued that researchers should separately
measure the two components of symbolic racism -- racial affect and justice beliefs. Thus,
they included measures of symbolic racism, racial affect, and justice beliefs in their
study of reactions to AAPs in education. When endorsement of four AAPs were regressed on
the three measures, the alternative approach (racial affect plus justice beliefs)
explained variance beyond symbolic racism in two cases, but the reverse was not true. When
racial affect and justice beliefs were contrasted, they were found to be approximately
equivalent predictors. Justice beliefs explained variance beyond racial affect in
predicting reactions to recruitment, but neither approach explained independent variance
in predicting reactions to the other three AAPs.
Sidanius, Devereux, and Pratto (1992) contrasted a symbolic racism
explanation with a social dominance theory of "racial policy attitudes." Social
dominance theory as developed by Sidanius et al. (1992) suggests that all social systems
consist of hierarchical caste systems with various dimensions of social status and
rules/influences on movement within and between castes. These caste systems are maintained
over time through institutional discrimination, individual discrimination, and
"behavioral asymmetry," or evolution of different behavioral repertoires across
castes that perpetuate and reinforce caste differences. Sidanius et al. (1992) analyzed
data from a sample of 234 White respondents, and found substantial evidence for social
dominance as an antecedent of attitudes toward racial policy. Close inspection of the
symbolic racism and social dominance "models" indicates that they contain
virtually the same antecedent variables hypothesized to operate in different causal
orders. In Studies 1 (N = 3,861) and 2 (N approximately = 614), Sidanius et al. (1996)
found that opposition to affirmative action was associated with classical racism, and that
this relation increased with respondent education. Anti-Black affect was not associated
with opposition to affirmative action.
Reid and Clayton (1992) warned that racism and sexism differ in many
ways, and that it is not safe to assume that the two dispositions will relate identically
to attitudes toward affirmative action. In comparison to racism, sexism has been neglected
in the affirmative action research, but there is some relevant work. Similar to modern
racism, neosexism is said to be "a manifestation of a conflict between egalitarian
values and residual negative feelings toward women" (Tougas, Brown et al., 1995, p.
843). In a study of 130 male Canadian students, Tougas, Brown et al. (1995) used path
analysis to demonstrate that neosexism predicted opposition to affirmative action.
Traditional sexism affected reactions to affirmative action only through its influence on
neosexism. In a second study of 149 male managers, office workers, and blue-collar
workers, it was found that attitudes toward affirmative action in general and toward the
program in place were significantly related to neosexism. Joly et al. (1993) studied 96
male managers and professionals. They found that neosexism predicted opposition to
affirmative action in general and a specific AAP targeted at women. Tougas, Crosby et al.
(1995) report the results of two studies on male francophone Canadian managers and
professionals. In both cases, attitudes toward AAPs were significantly related to
In summary, prejudice (racism and sexism) is associated with opposition
to AAPs targeted at the relevant group. Much of the research using measures of modern
racism or sexism is flawed because the measure of prejudice is confounded with fairness
considerations. A few studies have compared the explanatory power of racism to other
variables. Kravitz (1995) found that perceived fairness of AAP structure was much more
important, and personal self-interest was somewhat more important than racism. Nosworthy
et al. (1995) found that perceived fairness explained unique variance beyond measures of
racism, personal self-interest, and collective self-interest in evaluations of four AAPs.
Attitudes were more closely related to self-interest than to racism.
b. Relative Deprivation
Relative deprivation is "the emotion one feels when making
negatively discrepant comparisons" (Crosby, 1976, p. 88). Building on earlier work,
Crosby (1984) distinguishes four types of resentment individuals feel about the
distribution of an outcome. Personal deprivation exists when the individual receives less
than he or she desires and deserves. Surprisingly, this concept has been neglected in the
affirmative action area. In-group deprivation exists when the individual's group receives
less than the individual desires and believes it deserves. Within the affirmative action
area this has been called collective relative deprivation, and it is discussed below.
Ideological deprivation exists when a group with which the individual sympathizes receives
less than the individual desires and believes it deserves. Within the affirmative action
area this has been called relative deprivation on behalf of others, and it is discussed
below. Finally, backlash exists when the individual resents the fact that others have
received positive outcomes. With few exceptions (Lynch & Beer, 1990), backlash has
been ignored in the affirmative action literature. Lynch (1992) argues various factors
have led to a taboo against acknowledging the very negative effects that affirmative
action has had on young, working and middle-class White males. He refers to this neglect
as "race unconsciousness," and attributes it to social-structural factors and
actions of both the political Left and the Right.
(1) Relative Deprivation on Behalf of Others
Virtually all research in this area has been performed by Tougas and her
colleagues in Canada, who have correlated relative deprivation on behalf of others with
attitudes toward affirmative action. They have operationalized relative deprivation as a
function of two construct domains: perceived discrepancy between the majority-minority
groups and level of satisfaction or affect generated by that discrepancy. Tougas and
Veilleux (1990) and Veilleux and Tougas (1989) used a cross-product approach to measure
the concept. Unfortunately, this approach has such severe conceptual and mathematical
problems that it is not possible to interpret the results with confidence. Tougas and
Beaton (1993) confounded the effects of relative deprivation on behalf others and
collective relative deprivation (discussed below), so no conclusions can be drawn from
their results. In short, there are fatal methodological problems with all research on the
relation between relative deprivation on behalf of others and attitudes toward affirmative
action directed at that other group.
If one assumes that respondents value fairness and are not prejudiced,
one can assume that discrepancy automatically leads to dissatisfaction. Note that the
discrepancy component alone is a measure of belief that the target group experiences
discrimination. As discussed in the previous section on "Need for Affirmative
Action," some research has found this belief to be associated with support for
affirmative action. This research suggests that a sense of relative deprivation on behalf
of the target group will correlate positively with support for affirmative action. There
is clearly a need for additional research with appropriate measures of relative
deprivation on behalf of others.
(2) Collective Relative Deprivation
Like relative deprivation on behalf of others, collective relative
deprivation incorporates both a perception of discrepancy and a dissatisfaction with that
discrepancy. The difference is, collective relative deprivation refers to the respondent's
own group. Once again, use of a cross-product approach to measure collective relative
deprivation leads to conceptual and mathematical problems, and vitiates interpretation
(Tougas et al., 1991; Veilleux & Tougas, 1989). Research on collective relative
deprivation also suffers from a second problem -- an inconsistency in the temporal focus
of the measure. For example, Veilleux and Tougas (1989) measured collective relative
deprivation prior to (independent of) the affirmative action program, whereas Tougas et
al. (1991) measured the collective relative deprivation that remained after the
institution of the affirmative action program. Further, Tougas et al. (1991) used the term
collective relative deprivation to refer to the anticipated effects of the affirmative
action program on the group. The latter two approaches would seem to provide measures of
collective interest rather than collective relative deprivation. These three situations
have been treated as if they were equivalent, and this considerably complicates
interpretation of the research.
When dealing with collective relative deprivation, unlike relative
deprivation on behalf of others, it is fairly safe to assume that the perception of a
discrepancy automatically leads to dissatisfaction. Thus, measures of collective relative
deprivation that rely on the discrepancy component alone should be valid. In a structural
modeling study of 90 French Canadian women, Tougas and Veilleux (1988) provide the
clearest evidence for the role of collective relative deprivation. They obtained support
for a model that included a path from perceived discrepancy to dissatisfaction, and a
second path from dissatisfaction to attitude toward the AAP. It is worth noting that this
model included a path from procedure (elimination of discrimination versus preferential
treatment) to attitude that had a larger path coefficient than did the path from
dissatisfaction to attitude.
In short, the one study with demonstrably valid measures indicates that
the perception of collective relative deprivation will increase support for an AAP
targeted at the deprived group. This is, of course, consistent with self-interest, and
there is a need for research that separates the two concepts.
c. Political Perspective
A few studies have attempted to assess the relation between political
perspective and affirmative action attitudes. The concept of political perspective has
been operationalized in several ways. We discuss each of these approaches in turn.
In their national survey of Whites, Kluegel and Smith (1983) examined
the relation between affirmative action attitudes and political orientation conceived in
terms of stratification beliefs. Support for affirmative action tended to increase with
beliefs that Blacks have poor opportunities, equality is just and beneficial, and poverty
is due to structural causes, though not all effects were significant in all analyses and
some of these main effects were qualified by interactions. Bobo and Kluegel (1993)
analyzed data from 1,150 White respondents. They found that stratification beliefs
(structuralism, individualism, and the belief that inequality of income is fair) were
associated with support for policies designed to enhance the opportunities and incomes of
Blacks, though none of the policy items referred to affirmative action per se. In
addition, this support seemed to be partly mediated by beliefs about the extent of
anti-Black discrimination and the extent to which the racial socioeconomic gap is due to a
lack of effort on the part of Blacks. On the other hand, Kravitz (1995) found that
attitudes toward affirmative action were not related to two of these same structural
beliefs: belief in equality of opportunity and belief that inequality is appropriate.
Finally, Kinder and Sanders (1990) found that the relation between stratification beliefs
and attitudes toward affirmative action varied with the framing of the question and the
political sophistication of the respondent. There is clearly a need for additional
information about the relation between stratification beliefs and attitudes toward
In a related study, Nosworthy et al. (1995) assessed adherence to two
dimensions of "justice ideology:" proportionality and egalitarianism. Scores on
the proportionality measure correlated significantly with attitudes toward two of the four
AAPs; scores on the egalitarianism measure correlated significantly with attitudes toward
one of the AAPs. Ozawa et al. (1996) studied reactions of Japanese and U. S. students to a
case of gender discrimination and four possible solutions. The key solution was a
combination of minimum standards and quota hiring. Consistent with the authors' emphasis
on collectivism, the Japanese students evaluated this procedure more positively than did
the U. S. students. Contrary to the hypothesis, however, within-country analyses revealed
nonsignificant correlations between scores on a measure of collectivism and support for
the "affirmative action" procedure.
Fried, Levi, Browne, and Billings (1996) suggested that inconsistent
effects of ideology, at least among Blacks, could be due to different experiences with
discrimination. Using two samples of employed African-American students (Ns = 59 and 76),
they found that attitudes were positively associated with egalitarianism (as against
individualism) and previous experiences with discrimination. Furthermore, the effects of
ideology were smallest among those who reported having experienced the most
Finally, researchers have found that support for affirmative action is
higher among self-identified liberals than conservatives (Sidanius et al., 1996), and
among Democrats than Republicans (Jacobson, 1985; Stout & Buffum, 1993).
In summary, this research reveals that attitudes toward affirmative
action are associated with political perspective, though the strength of the relationship
doubtlessly varies with the way in which political ideology is assessed. There is a need
for more research in this area, with more consistent measurement of political ideology.
5. Personal Experiences
There is little research on the role of personal experiences in
determining attitudes toward affirmative action. As mentioned above, Fried et al. (1996)
found that Black students who had experienced the most discrimination had the most
positive attitudes toward affirmative action. In addition, the experience of
discrimination seemed to overwhelm any effect of ideology. Stout and Buffum (1993) studied
Texas social workers, most of whom were White females. They found that commitment to
affirmative action was positively related to positive experiences with affirmative action
and negatively related to negative experiences with affirmative action. Kravitz et al.
(1994) reported that attitudes toward affirmative action were more positive among those
who had been victimized by race/ethnic-based discrimination and by those who had
previously worked at an organization with an AAP directed at another demographic group.
Matheson et al. (1994) found that female police trainees, who could expect to suffer from
discrimination in their jobs, evaluated possible AAPs more positively than did
undergraduate women for whom discrimination was less personal. This conclusion, however,
was based on a casual comparison of responses across a set of three studies, not on
statistical analyses. In a study of 93 Dutch police officers, de Vries and Pettigrew
(1994) found that majority officers responded positively to the effects of affirmative
action. They reported that the diversity improved the quality of their work and made it
easier for them to deal with their diverse urban area. Bell (1996) found that experience
with discrimination was related to more positive AAP attitudes, and experience with
diversity (in either work group members or friends) was generally unrelated to AAP
In summary, attitudes toward affirmative action seem to be positively
associated with having experienced discrimination and having worked at an organization
with an AAP, at least if the AAP resulted in positive experiences. Negative experiences
with affirmative action appear to decrease support for affirmative action. There is a need
for additional research on how attitudes toward affirmative action and AAPs are associated
with prior experiences of discrimination and prior experiences with affirmative action.
Attitudes toward affirmative action and AAPs are related to several
individual difference variables. Attitudes toward race-based affirmative action are
inversely related to racism and sexism. Consistent with this finding, limited research
suggests that attitudes are positively associated with a sense of relative deprivation on
behalf of the target group. There is also some evidence that attitudes are associated with
a sense of collective relative deprivation. Consistent with the effects of self-interest,
people are most supportive of AAPs targeted at their own demographic group. In addition,
Blacks have more positive attitudes than Whites, with Hispanics falling between the other
two groups. Attitudes are more positive among women than among men. These gender effects
often are moderated by the structural properties of the AAP; women tend to be more
responsive than men to these factors. The gender differences may be mediated by
perceptions of discrimination severity or implications for self-interest. Attitudes are
complexly related with self-efficacy, and are not strongly associated with demographic
variables such as age, income, and education. They are, however, associated with the
respondent's role, being most positive among those whose jobs involve the maintenance of
AAPs. In addition, attitudes of decision makers appear to be less flexible than those of
typical citizens. There is some evidence that attitudes are associated with political
position; they are more positive among Democrats, liberals, and those who reject the
dominant structural ideology of opportunity. Finally, attitudes toward affirmative action
seem to be positively associated with having experienced discrimination and having worked
at an organization with an AAP, at least if the AAP resulted in positive experiences.
Negative experience with affirmative action appear to decrease support for affirmative