Social Science Baha

Can Affirmative Action Policies Succeed in the Presence of Social Marginalization?

Debipriya Chatterjee

The key objective behind implementing affirmative action policies, which often take the form of preferential treatment for members of historically disadvantaged groups in matters of education and/or employment, is to bridge the socio-economic disparities across the different groups in a stratified society. However, the empirical fact remains that even after many decades of pursuing such policies, societies have continued to remain stratified and often highly unequal. This paper aims to ascribe this apparent failure of affirmative action policies to the continued social marginalization faced by the disadvantaged groups. Using a simple framework, where an individual’s ability to acquire useful skills is affected by the ‘social capital’ of the community in which she grows up and the socio-economic status of her parents, it is observed that affirmative action policies, although they might mask the disparities to some extent by improving the representation rates of the historically discriminated groups in education/employment sectors, they cannot lead us to ‘equality’ as the communities continue to remain segregated. In other words, social marginalization causes disparities in skill acquisition to persist, thereby engendering grounds for continued affirmative action. Thus, it is recommended that positive discrimination policies be actively combined with policies that encourage greater social integration.