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credential society

Definition of Credential Society

(noun) A society that views credentials (e.g., certificates, degrees, and diplomas) as essential for employment in certain jobs, serving as evidence of the ability to perform specialized tasks.

Example of Credential Society

  • The United States is typically considered a credential society because of the increasing requirement to attend an institution of higher education as an entry point for many jobs.

Etymology of Credential Society

Credential Society Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: cre·den·tial so·ci·e·ty

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /kri-dEn-shuhl suh-sIE-uh-tee/
  • British English – /kri-dEn-shuhl suh-sIE-uh-tee/

International Phonetic Alphabet

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

Usage Notes

  • Plural: credential societies
  • Credentials serve as a gatekeeper for entry into a profession and useful for sorting through a large pool of often anonymous applicants, this leads to credential inflation. However, credentials are not always indicators of the ability to complete complicated tasks or evidence of advanced knowledge but show the ability to obtain the credentials themselves, not always what they are supposed to represent.

Related Quotations

  • [Randall] Collins points out that credentials often bear little relation to the responsibilities of a specific job, and maintains that degrees serve as a shorthand way to sort out the people with the manners and attitudes sought by many employers. In short, credentialism operates much like family background as a gatekeeping strategy that restricts prestigious occupations to a small segment of the population” (Macionis and Plummer 2012:662).
  • “Equally as important as the invidious barriers to opportunity that remain entrenched in our society are the legitimized, ostensibly meritocratic requirements built into the entire notion of bureaucratic credentialism. [Randall] Collins (1979), for example, has persuasively demonstrated how educational institutions have supported professionalization through the proliferation of programs, degrees, and certification schemes that have been used by government, business, and other organizations to increase for formal credential and licensure requirements for many positions. In effect, those already in positions of influence and status have quietly agreed to raise the minimum requirements for employment” (Hauhart 2016:265).
  • “With the advent of globalization and the increased mobility of professionals and workers of all kinds across national boundaries, the problem of recognizing “credentials” obtained in other countries has come to the fore. On the one hand, professional organizations and other occupational associations are concerned that the influx of such credentialed individuals may weaken their control over the supply of ‘qualified’ labor; on the other hand, governments are under pressure to recognize such ‘foreign credentials’ by a public that is anxious to alleviate a real or perceived scarcity of professional service providers in such areas as medicine and law” (Smith 2008:166–67).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Hauhart, Robert C. 2016. Seeking the American Dream: A Sociological Inquiry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

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

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.

Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. 2006. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Collins English Dictionary: Complete and Unabridged. 6th ed. 2003. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins.

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

Ferrante, Joan. 2011. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Henslin, James M. 2012. Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. 10th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.

Kimmel, Michael S., and Amy Aronson. 2012. Sociology Now. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Reference. (http://www.oxfordreference.com/).

Ritzer, George, ed. 2007. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Credential Society

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

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

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

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

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

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

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

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