Home > Archive > Volume 58, No. 1 > This paper

Presumption and Prejudice: Quotas May Solve Some Problems, but Create Many More

Guy Madison


Some Western countries contemplate, or have already implemented, legislative means to counter group differences. Here, I consider the arguments for, and consequences of, sex quotas. I find that it is logically incoherent to impose selection based on group membership, such as quotas, unless one acknowledges that there is a group difference in some trait that affects the outcome in the domain in which the selection takes place. If such a group difference is acknowledged, a quota might decrease the proportion of individuals who are more likely to have undesirable traits that are difficult to measure. However, the fact that traits are normally distributed and overlap across groups means that it is more effective to select for desirable traits than for group membership. Also, quotas inevitably entail negative consequences that should be weighed in. From the perspective of the individual, it is fairer to be selected on the basis of traits one actually has, rather than a stereotype of the group one belongs to. From the perspective of society as a whole, focusing on group differences and selecting based on group membership is divisive and conflict-driving. It stirs hostility by encouraging competition over resources and social status between groups instead of between individuals. These arguments and conclusions are applicable to other groups and group differences in general.

   Download PDF