Myth of Meritocracy


A system that rewards merit (ability + effort) with success, like wealth, power, and privileges; success determined by individual achievement and not based on one’s inherited social status. Americans are more likely to believe that people are rewarded for their intelligence, skills, hard work and are less likely to believe that family wealth or the policies and systems that make success more available to some and not others, play key roles in getting ahead. And Americans’ support for meritocratic principles has remained stable despite the fact that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other industrialized countries. 

The American Dream relies on the concept of meritocracy, which is often considered a myth because it ignores the multiple factors that contribute to one’s achievements and status in society – 1) people do not start on equal footing, 2) it is not because of individual lack of will, effort, or intelligence, rather there are systems of oppression that inhibit marginalized populations from accessing resources that lead to health, wealth, power, and privileges.


Adapted from The Atlantic and informed by multiple sources including: