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credential inflation

Definition of Credential Inflation

(noun) The tendency to require ever-increasing, often unnecessary, levels of education or qualifications (e.g., certificates, degrees, and diplomas) for a specific job.

Examples of Credential Inflation

Causes of Credential Inflation

  • Increased technical requirements or specialized knowledge within the job market.
  • Over time, as specific qualifications become too numerous in a society and they become devalued. Then more specific, newer, or rarer qualifications are required for jobs.
  • The drive to increase an individual’s social capital and cultural capital.
  • To restrict access to certain jobs, not just to train for them; this is a form of social closure that assures in-groups and out-groups.

Credential Inflation Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: cre·den·tial in·fla·tion

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /kri-dEn-shuhl in-flAY-shuhn/
  • British English – /kri-dEn-shuhl in-flAY-shuhn/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /krəˈdɛnʃəl ɪnˈfleɪʃən/
  • British English – /krɪˈdɛnʃəl ɪnˈfleɪʃən/

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “According to conflict theorists, educational level can be a tool for discrimination by using the mechanism of credentialism. . . . [t]his device can be used by potential employers to discriminate against minorities, working-class people, or women—that is, those who are often less educated and least likely to be credentialed because discriminatory practices within the education system limited their opportunities for educational achievement” (Andersen and Taylor 2011:348).
  • “Collins was an early analyst of credential inflation, a concern that was already evident in his doctoral thesis on education and employment (completed in 1969 at the University of California, Berkeley). To understand the meaning of credential inflation, consider the paradox that while increased access to education is supposed to improve people’s position in the labour market, it has not produced a more equal society. Why is this? Collins shows it is because credentials (diplomas, degrees at the undergraduate and postgraduate level, and many sub-degree modes of certification) function largely like money. Increase the money supply and you encourage inflation. The same is true of credentials. It transpires that education is one market among others. Where the supply of certified people for a particular job is plentiful, its market price will be commensurately depressed. Hence, it is expected today that most non-manual workers should have an undergraduate degree” (Baehr 2007:56).
  • “The ‘credential inflation’ that occurred over the last third of the twentieth century was a product of the tremendous expansion in postsecondary education that occurred in many of the more developed industrial or ‘postindustrial’ societies in the post–World War II (1939–1945) era. Jobs previously filled by people possessing only high-school diplomas (for example, insurance salespeople) were increasingly filled by those with college diplomas or undergraduate university degrees. The proliferation of employment opportunities in the ‘service sector‘ combined with the contraction of the manufacturing labor force increased labor market competition for ‘white-collarjobs requiring reasonably high levels of literacy or numeracy” (Smith 2008:166).
  • “The emergence of . . . faux universities is in part a response to an insatiable demand for degrees in a culture where everyone thinks they should go to college. This, in turn, has created a destructive spiral of credential inflation. Schools and colleges cause this degree inflation the same way governments cause monetary inflation: by printing more paper. A high school diploma was once the requirement for entering the trades or beginning a profession. But everybody has one of those now, including people who can’t even read. Consequently, colleges serve to verify the completion of high school, and so a master’s degree now fills the requirement once served by a bachelor’s degree” (Nichols 2017:75).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Andersen, Margaret L., and Howard Francis Taylor. 2011. Sociology: The Essentials. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Baehr, Peter. 2007. “Randall Collins.” Pp. 54–59 in Fifty Key Sociologists: The Contemporary Theorists, edited by J. Scott. New York: Routledge.

Bills, David B., and James E. Rosenbaum. 2007. “schooling and economic success.” Pp. 4037–40 in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, edited by G. Ritzer. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Nichols, Tom. 2017. The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith, Murray. 2008. “credentialism.” Pp. 166–67 in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2nd ed., edited by W. Darity. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

Works Consulted

Brym, Robert J., and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Collins, Randall. 1979. The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press.

Dore, Ronald Philip. 1976. The Diploma Disease: Education, Qualification, and Development. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (https://wordnet.princeton.edu/).

Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (http://en.wiktionary.org).

Cite the Definition of Credential Inflation

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “credential inflation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved July 18, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/credential-inflation/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

credential inflation. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/credential-inflation/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “credential inflation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed July 18, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/credential-inflation/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“credential inflation.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Jul. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/credential-inflation/>.