A social system in which status is achieved through ability and effort (merit), rather than ascribed on the basis of age, class, gender, or other such particularistic or inherited advantages. The term implies that the meritorious deserve any privileges which they accrue. In practice it is difficult to find reliable measures of merit about which social scientists can agree.
The term was coined by Michael Young in The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033 (1958) to refer to government by those identified as the most able high achievers, with merit defined as intelligence plus effort. His fantasy attempted to foresee the extreme consequences of a society which fully implemented the goal of equality of opportunity through the educational system, with the most able rising to the upper echelons, leaving intellectual dullards to carry out humble manual work. The book warned that the new focus on intelligence and ability in the educational system merely institutionalized inequality of intellectual ability in place of inequality based on social class. Since judgements about what constitutes effort are inescapably moral (does a lazy genius merit rewarding? And, if so, why not a hard-working dullard?) the term remains highly contested (see, for example,, ‘Problems of “Meritocracy”’, in , Can Education Be Equalized?, 1996). See also achievement ; justice, social.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • meritocracy — mer‧i‧toc‧ra‧cy [ˌmerˈtɒkrəsi ǁ ˈtɑː ] noun meritocracies PLURALFORM [countable] a social system that gives the greatest power and highest social positions to people with the most ability: • Everyone wanted to belong to the new meritocracy,… …   Financial and business terms

  • meritocracy — n. 1. A form of social system in which power goes to those with superior intellects. [WordNet 1.5] 2. The belief that rulers should be chosen for their superior abilities and not because of their wealth or birth. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • meritocracy — coined 1958 by British sociologist Michael Young (1915–2002) and used in title of his book, The Rise of the Meritocracy ; from MERIT (Cf. merit) (n.) + CRACY (Cf. cracy). Related: Meritocratic …   Etymology dictionary

  • meritocracy — ► NOUN (pl. meritocracies) 1) government or leadership by people of great merit. 2) a society governed by meritocracy. DERIVATIVES meritocratic adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • meritocracy — [mer΄i täk′rə sē] n. [ MERIT + O + CRACY] 1. an intellectual elite, based on academic achievement 2. a system in which such an elite achieves special status, as in positions of leadership meritocrat n. meritocratic adj …   English World dictionary

  • Meritocracy — Sociology …   Wikipedia

  • meritocracy — mer|i|toc|ra|cy [ˌmerıˈtɔkrəsi US ˈta: ] n plural meritocracies 1.) a social system that gives the greatest power and highest social positions to people with the most ability 2.) the meritocracy the people who have power in a meritocracy… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • meritocracy — UK [ˌmerɪˈtɒkrəsɪ] / US [ˌmerɪˈtɑkrəsɪ] noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms meritocracy : singular meritocracy plural meritocracies a system or society in which people have influence or status according to their abilities and achievements… …   English dictionary

  • meritocracy — meritocratic /mer i teuh krat ik/, adj. /mer i tok reuh see/, n., pl. meritocracies. 1. an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth. 2. a system in which such persons are… …   Universalium

  • meritocracy — [[t]me̱rɪtɒ̱krəsi[/t]] meritocracies N VAR A meritocracy is a society or social system in which people get status or rewards because of what they achieve, rather than because of their wealth or social status …   English dictionary

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