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Affirmative Meritocracy



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum for: Affirmative Meritocracy by Gregory M. Walton, Steven J. Spencer, Sam Erman in Social Issues and Policy Review, 7(1) Volume 8, Issue 1, 233, Article first published online: 13 January 2014

  • We thank Charles Abernathy, Christopher Bryan, Geoffrey Cohen, Carol Dweck, Christine Logel, Richard Primus, Lee Ross, Claude Steele, Valerie Jones Taylor, Eric Uhlmann, Chris Whitman, and several anonymous reviewers for detailed and helpful input.

  • Correction added on 19 March 2013 after first publication on 7 January 2013. Due to an error during the proofreading process a small change needed to be made to this version of the article. The main change is reflected in a correction to Table 1, indicated by the following symbol: §.

Gregory M. Walton, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall—Building 420, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Tel: 650 498 4284 [e-mail:]. Sam Erman is now Latino Studies Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution.


We argue that in important circumstances meritocracy can be realized only through a specific form of affirmative action we call affirmative meritocracy. These circumstances arise because common measures of academic performance systematically underestimate the intellectual ability and potential of members of negatively stereotyped groups (e.g., non-Asian ethnic minorities, women in quantitative fields). This bias results not from the content of performance measures but from common contexts in which performance measures are assessed—from psychological threats like stereotype threat that are pervasive in academic settings, and which undermine the performance of people from negatively stereotyped groups. To overcome this bias, school and work settings should be changed to reduce stereotype threat. In such environments, admitting or hiring more members of devalued groups would promote meritocracy, diversity, and organizational performance. Evidence for this bias, its causes, magnitude, remedies, and implications for social policy and for law are discussed.