affirmative action


Definition of affirmative action

: the use of policies, legislation, programs, and procedures to improve the educational or employment opportunities of members of certain demographic groups (such as minority groups, women, and older people) as a remedy to the effects of long-standing discrimination against such groups

Note: Affirmative action gives limited preference to qualified groups (which may include racial and ethnic minorities, women, older people, people with disabilities, and some veterans) in job hiring, admission to institutions of higher education, the awarding of government contracts, and other social benefits.

The term affirmative action was … used in an executive order issued by President Johnson in 1965, which banned all federal contractors and subcontractors, as well as unions involved in federal work, from practicing employment discrimination.— Michael L. Levine Unlike previous measures, such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, which prohibited discrimination, the goal of affirmative action was to adopt a proactive approach to redressing past discrimination. It goes beyond the prohibition of overtly racist practices by requiring employers, public contractors, and college admissions officers to cast a wider net in their searches for qualified workers and students through active recruitment of racial minorities.— Shirley J. Yee et al.

Examples of affirmative action in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Despite being early advocates for desegregation and affirmative action, the Free Press did not hire its first African-American reporter until 1955. Dan Austin, Detroit Free Press, 5 May 2022 During a time when education has become inflamed by divisive cultural debates, Hillsdale has been criticized for its glossy spin on American history as well as its ideological tilt on topics like affirmative action. Stephanie Saul,, 10 Apr. 2022 During a time when education has become inflamed by divisive cultural debates, Hillsdale has been criticized for its glossy spin on American history as well as its ideological tilt on topics like affirmative action. Stephanie Saul, New York Times, 10 Apr. 2022 Last year, a group headed by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who’s made a career out of challenging affirmative action and voting rights laws, filed a legal challenge against Nasdaq’s new diversity rule. Sarah Todd, Quartz, 8 Apr. 2022 Then in 2016, Oakland designed the first program that used proxies for race to get around affirmative action. Amanda Chicago Lewis, The New Republic, 4 Apr. 2022 Already, some have tried to diminish Judge Jackson’s nomination as affirmative action or discrimination against white people. Annie Ma, The Christian Science Monitor, 21 Mar. 2022 The coalition, which is being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation — a conservative legal advocacy group known for fighting against affirmative action — argued that TJ’s admissions system is discriminatory and called for its immediate end. Washington Post, 14 Mar. 2022 Hartney found a particularly strong association between views on affirmative action and support for the school board recall. Nami Sumida, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'affirmative action.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of affirmative action

1961, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of affirmative action was in 1961

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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Affirmative action.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for affirmative action

affirmative action


Legal Definition of affirmative action

: an active effort (as through legislation) to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups or women

More from Merriam-Webster on affirmative action Encyclopedia article about affirmative action


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