Just Sociology

Exploring Meritocracy: Benefits Limitations and Alternatives

Meritocracy is a belief system that has been cultivated in many societies. It is a belief in the concept of reward allocation based on hard work and talent, not ascriptive factors such as race, gender, or social status.

The meritocratic ideology is one that incentivizes individuals to strive towards achieving success through hard work, education, and training. However, the idea of meritocracy has been increasingly challenged in recent times.

This article will provide an overview of meritocracy as a concept, its beliefs, and the criticisms surrounding it. Additionally, it will explore the notion of meritocracy in education and the reasons why it is not truly meritocratic.

Definition and belief system

Meritocracy is an ideology that believes in rewarding individuals based on their abilities, hard work, and talent. In this system, individuals rise to the top by demonstrating their merit and earning promotions or other rewards.

The meritocratic system is based on the belief that individuals should be rewarded based on their own achievements, and not based on factors such as social status, family background, or other ascriptive factors. The concept of meritocracy has been promoted as a way to achieve social mobility and reduce inequality in society.

The belief is that by rewarding hard work and talent, individuals will have greater opportunities to succeed, regardless of their social background or other ascriptive factors. The meritocratic ideology is often associated with a belief in a fair world, where anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.

Incentivization and equal opportunity

Meritocracy incentivizes individuals to work hard, invest in education, and strive towards achieving success. Individuals who believe in meritocracy tend to be driven by a strong sense of individual responsibility and accountability for their own success or failure.

Additionally, meritocracy promotes the idea of equal opportunity, where individuals have an equal chance to succeed, regardless of their background. The belief in meritocracy has been linked to societal success, with many countries that promote meritocracy achieving high levels of prosperity and social mobility.

By encouraging people to work hard and invest in education, these countries have created a highly skilled and educated workforce, which in turn contributes to the country’s economic success.

Criticisms and consequences

Although the concept of meritocracy is widely accepted, it has increasingly been criticized for fueling inequality and blaming individuals for their own lack of success. These criticisms have arisen due to the belief that meritocracy operates on the assumption that every individual has equal opportunities to succeed, which is not always the case.

Meritocracy has been accused of perpetuating the myth that success is determined by one’s own abilities and actions, which disregards the role that social and economic conditions play in determining an individual’s success. The idea of meritocracy can create false hope in individuals who believe that their success depends entirely on their own abilities, which can lead to disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment.

Moreover, the meritocratic system can be seen as a way of justifying inequality. By suggesting that those who succeed are inherently better than those who do not, meritocracy can be used to explain away the social and economic disparities that exist in society.

Meritocratic view of education

The concept of meritocracy is often applied to education, with the belief that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed if they work hard enough. The meritocratic view of education suggests that educational achievement is determined by an individual’s own abilities and efforts, rather than by other factors such as race, gender, or social status.

The meritocratic view of education is often used as a justification for standardized testing, grading, and ranking systems. These systems are intended to identify those who are most deserving of rewards and opportunities, based on their academic achievement.

Reasons why education is not meritocratic

Despite the belief in the meritocratic view of education, there are many reasons why education is not truly meritocratic. Firstly, the quality of instruction can vary widely between schools, and even within schools.

This can result in some students receiving a better education than others, which can have a significant impact on their academic achievement. Secondly, the population of a school can also play a significant role in an individual’s educational achievement.

Students who come from more affluent backgrounds may have access to more resources, such as private tutors or academic enrichment activities, which can give them an advantage over students who do not have these resources available to them. Finally, parental influence can also impact an individual’s academic achievement.

Parents who have high levels of education and income are more likely to be able to provide their children with additional resources, such as private tutoring or academic support, which can enhance their performance in school.


The concept of meritocracy has been a dominant ideology across various societies, with the belief system revolving around the reward allocation based on hard work, talent and ability, and not ascriptive factors such as social status. However, the belief in meritocracy has increasingly come under scrutiny due to its perpetuation of the myth of equal opportunity and for promoting the notion of blaming individuals for their lack of success.

Education, in particular, is often viewed through the lens of meritocracy, with the meritocratic view of education believing that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed if they work hard enough. However, the reality is that there are various factors that impact educational achievement, including the quality of instruction, resources available, and parental influence.

Therefore, while meritocracy may be an appealing concept, the reality is that it is not truly achievable.The concept of meritocracy has been a widely accepted belief system across various societies. The system operates on the premise that individuals should be rewarded based on their merit, specifically their abilities, hard work, and talent.

However, the belief in meritocracy has been under scrutiny due to the myth of equal opportunities and the promotion of false hope. Flaws have been identified in the meritocratic approach, indicating that it is not truly achievable.

This article will expand on the flaws of a meritocratic system, including the influence of social markers, maintaining advantages, the paradox of meritocracy, and the myth of meritocracy. Additionally, it will explore alternative principles to meritocracy and their implementation to create equal opportunities.

Influence of social markers

One of the main flaws of the meritocratic system is the influence of social markers, such as wealth, geographic area, schooling, and social classes. These factors can significantly impact an individual’s ability to succeed, regardless of their abilities and hard work.

For example, individuals from wealthy backgrounds can access resources such as private tutoring and academic support, which can give them an advantage over those who do not have these resources. Additionally, geographic areas with more resources and high-performing schools are more likely to produce high-achieving students.

Finally, social class also plays a significant role in how well an individual performs academically, as working-class students may face disadvantages such as lack of educational resources and social stigma.

Paradox of meritocracy

The concept of maintaining advantages is known as the paradox of meritocracy, where the meritocratic system results in certain individuals or groups having an inherent advantage. This advantage allows them to maintain their advantages due to self-interest or group interest rather than individual merit.

For example, a person in power may allow their family members or people from their social group to benefit from the meritocratic system, even if they are not the most deserving. This phenomenon of group interest can result in the creation of an entrenched system of meritocracy and prevent individuals from poorer backgrounds or under-resourced areas from gaining access to the same opportunities as their more privileged or connected counterparts.

The myth of meritocracy

The belief in the myth of meritocracy has long perpetuated the bourgeois/proletariat power division. The working class is disproportionately disadvantaged, as they often have fewer resources available to them, including access to good education, stable work, and a supportive environment.

As a result, even if they possess the abilities necessary to contribute significantly to society, they are excluded from opportunities, leading to a situation where meritocracy does not work as intended for everyone. Despite claims that meritocracy provides equal opportunities, this has only been proven to be true in rare instances.

In many cases, social and economic conditions intercede, making it difficult for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their full potential.

Principles of need and equality

One potential alterative to meritocracy is the principle of need and equality. This approach emphasizes the provision of resources based on an individual’s needs and requirements, rather than their merit.

This type of approach can be seen in various welfare policies, where resources are allocated based on specific needs, such as providing housing, medical treatment, and rehabilitation services, based on a person’s condition rather than how much effort or merit they have shown. This principle can also be applied to education at all levels, where resources can be allocated based on a student’s ability to achieve success, regardless of their family background, socio-economic status, or other factors.

Implementing alternative systems

To implement alternative systems to meritocracy, certain measures can be taken to identify high performing students, based on different factors than strictly academic achievement. For example, children from underresourced areas with fewer resources are often overlooked when it comes to high achievers, despite their considerable achievement under difficult circumstances.

This can change by identifying students with great potential and directing resources towards them. Additionally, access to educational resources can be promoted based on need and need alone, ensuring that students have access to the resources required to achieve their potential.

Ensuring representation is essential, and as such, partnerships between educational institutions and communities must be established to build relationships of trust and respect. These measures can guarantee a more egalitarian approach to education that takes into account the unique individual obstacles that many students must overcome to achieve their goals.


The concept of meritocracy has been a widely accepted belief system that operates on the premise that individuals should be rewarded based on their merit, specifically their abilities, hard work, and talent. However, numerous flaws have been identified in this system including the influence of social markers, maintaining advantages, the paradox of meritocracy, and the myth of meritocracy that make it hard to be successful.

Alternatives to meritocracy based on need principles and equality have been proposed to address these flaws. These alternatives demand that resources be allocated based on an individual’s needs and requirements instead of their merit, while also recognizing the unique obstacles that each student must overcome to achieve their potential.

If implemented correctly, these alternatives can help to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of their background.The concept of meritocracy has been a controversial issue, with its strengths and limitations hotly debated. While many have contested its efficacy and questioned its potential for creating genuine equality, others have celebrated the benefits of meritocracy as a means of promoting fairness and unlocking human potential.

This article’s next expansion will provide an exploration of the examples and benefits of meritocracy, including its potential applications in hiring and job qualifications, as well as its ties to individual and group interests. Additionally, it will analyze some of the references surrounding meritocracy, with a focus on both historical references and modern sociological and psychological theories.

Hiring and job qualifications

One of the potential benefits of a meritocratic system is its ability to promote fair and unbiased hiring practices. In a true meritocracy, job qualifications would be the primary determinants of hiring decisions rather than resorting to bribery, nepotism, or other unfair practices.

For example, a hiring manager in a meritocratic system would prioritize selecting candidates with experience and expertise in the relevant field, and the correct qualifications to perform the job duties, rather than relying on outside factors such as personal relationships or financial contributions. The importance of this can be seen in the way that many organizations have used meritocratic practices in their hiring policies to combat bias and promote fair and unbiased selection processes, a decentralized and inclusive approach that rewards the most qualified candidates, regardless of their background or personal connections.

Individual/group interests

One of the criticisms of meritocracy is that it can promote the interests of societal elites, who possess both the ability and resources to succeed in such a system. This can create a faster track route for the wealthy and influential to attain success, while disadvantaged groups may struggle to reach the same level of achievement.

However, it is also true that meritocracy can help individuals and groups achieve success based solely on their merits. For example, an entrepreneur who creates a successful start-up may have achieved significant economic success purely through their own talent and hard work, regardless of their background or social standing.

Moreover, in a meritocratic system, the societal elites would have to demonstrate their merit through their abilities and hard work such that if they are better than their competitors, then society would be better served by their success.

Historical references and origins

Michael Young, who coined the term meritocracy in his 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy, envisioned a dystopian society in which a ruling class without empathy and compassion was created based on the assumption that intellectual ability and hard work were the only legitimate criteria for determining social and economic success. The book has served as a reference point in discussions of meritocracy and its potential costs.

Furthermore, the concept of meritocracy has been around far longer than Michael Young’s book. The concept has its roots in ancient philosophical ideas about the role of virtue and excellence in determining social status.

Interestingly, while the original appeal of meritocracy may have been based on a belief in justice, the focus on the concept’s potential dangers has grown significantly over time.

Sociological and psychological theories

Sociologists have been examining questions of meritocracy for some time, with various theoretical perspectives emerging over the years. One long-standing perspective on the subject is provided by Davis and Moore’s functionalist theory, which argues that inequality is inevitable and beneficial to society, as better rewards for higher-skilled or more valuable roles incentivize individuals to strive for such positions.

In more recent years, researchers have focused on sociological and psychological aspects of meritocracy, such as that of Jost et al. who proposed that individuals with a more right-leaning ideology are more accepting of the idea of meritocracy, even when it perpetuates social inequalities.

Meanwhile, Castilla and Benard’s study found that although almost all major industries have embraced the principles of meritocracy, the implementation process tends to benefit individuals from privileged backgrounds. Additionally, Lucas, Liu, and others have noted that cultural and social factors are important determinants of whether meritocracy works in practice.

For example, a meritocratic system may work better in a society with a strong educational system and readily accessible resources than it would in one that lacks such foundational components.


The concept of meritocracy remains a source of much debate and discussion across various sectors, as people continue to consider its benefits and drawbacks. Despite its potential to promote fairness and equality, its inclination towards generating disparities between the socioeconomically privileged and disadvantaged means it remains a contentious issue.

This article has expanded on the topic of meritocracy, exploring its potential applications in terms of hiring and job qualifications, outlining its ties to individual and group interests, and analyzing key academic references that study meritocracy’s sociological and psychological components. Overall, the conclusion drawn is that as the push for a more egalitarian society grows, so too does the need to re-evaluate the merits and demerits of meritocracy, with an eye towards optimizing these egalitarian objectives.

In conclusion, this article has provided a comprehensive overview of the concept of meritocracy, exploring its ideology, flaws, and alternatives, as well as its examples and references. While the merits of meritocracy have been a subject of much debate, it is clear that there is still much work to be done to ensure that its principles of fairness and equality are met.

By recognizing the limitations of meritocracy and striving towards greater inclusivity and diversity, we can work together to create a more just and equitable society.


Q: What is meritocracy?

A: Meritocracy is a belief system that rewards

Popular Posts