Definitions of Credentialism
- (noun) The insistence and overemphasis on academic or educational qualifications (e.g., certificates, degrees, and diplomas) as evidence of an individual’s qualification in hiring people for a job and for promotion.
- (noun) The assumption of social superiority and inferiority based on educational attainment, serving as an indicator of status and class advantage.
Examples of Credentialism
- Definition 2:
- An individual with a PhD is more intelligent than someone without a PhD.
- Not being able to apply for a job without a certain certificate even if you have the ability to complete the job.
- American English – /krEEd-nchuh-liz-uhm/
- British English – /kri-dEn-shuh-li-zuhm/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /krəˈdɛn(t)ʃəˌlɪzəm/
- British English – /krᵻˈdɛnʃl̩ɪz(ə)m/
- Credentialism and credential inflation are used interchangeably by some social commentators and theorists, but separated here for clarity. See Bills and Rosenbaum (2007) for further information.
- The conceptual underpinning of credentialism arose through the critique of professionalism and the deschooling movement in the 1960–70s. Social theorists and critics contended formal education and hidden curriculums served to restrict access to opportunities and resources. The anticipatory socialization of formal education and credentialing provided a “rite of passage” that increased social capital and cultural capital within privileged groups but limited the social mobility of others.
- The critique of credentials is that they serve as a gatekeeper for entry into a profession, but are not always indicators of the ability to perform complicated tasks or evidence of advanced knowledge. The credentials show the ability to obtain the credentials themselves, but not always what they are supposed to represent.
- Credentialism leads to credential inflation and occurs in credential societies, a term coined by Randall Collins (born 1941) in The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification (1979).
- An achievement-based stratified society or system allocates status based on achievements that are often evidenced by credentials and access to achieve these credentials limits mobility.
- “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).
- “Compared to other social institutions, education is probably the most equitable. Like other nations in the developed world, the United States is oriented to credentialism—an individual’s qualifications for a job or another position are based on formal education or training. A college degree is the minimum credential for the most prestigious and financially rewarding positions … Education is a sorting process designed to benefit students and society, but gendered schooling brings benefits for some students and liabilities for others. In the most equitable of America’s social institutions, the gender of the child becomes a key determinant in his or her educational journey” (Lindsey 2016:352).
- “In the same way that we use the term racism to refer to bias based on race, sociologists use the term credentialism to refer to bias based on credentials: Credentialism is the assumption that some are better than others simply because they have a particular educational credential” (Brinkerhoff et al. 2011:286).
- “Traditionally, higher education served middle and especially upper middle class men as a form of credentialization that allowed them to occupy professional, scholarly, and managerial positions in society. Until the 1970s, women were either excluded from many professional schools or were subjected to admissions quotas that severely limited their numbers. Other than at women’s colleges, only small numbers of women were professors in the 1950s and 1960s; and almost none were to be found at research universities. As women’s social movements gained them space in the academy, men were forced to share their privileges. This was not a win/win situation unless the professional, scholarly, and managerial positions expanded by the number of women seeking these positions, which did not occur” (Metcalfe and Slaughter 2007:11).
- Word origin of “credential” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- Becker, Gary Stanley. 1964. Human Capital. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Berg, Ivar. 1971. Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery. Boston: Beacon.
- Bills, David B. 2003. “Credentials, Signals, and Screens: Explaining the Relationship between Schooling and Job Assignment.” Review of Educational Research 73(4):441–49. doi:10.3102/00346543073004441.
- 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.
- Brown, David K. 1995. Degrees of Control: A Sociology of Educational Expansion and Occupational Credentialism. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Brown, David K. 2001. “The Social Sources of Educational Credentialism: Status Cultures, Labor Markets, and Organizations.” Sociology of Education 74(Extra Issue):19–34. doi:10.2307/2673251.
- Bourdieu, Pierre, Jean-Claude Passeron, Richard Nice, and Tom Bottomore. 2014. Reproduction In Education, Society and Culture. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.
- Collins, Randall. 1979. The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press.
- Derber, Charles, William A. Schwartz, and Yale Magrass. 1990. Power in the Highest Degree: Professionals and the Rise of a New Mandarin Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Dore, Ronald Philip. 1976. The Diploma Disease: Education, Qualification, and Development. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Groot, Wim, and Henriëtte Maassen van den Brink. 2000. “Over-education in the Labor Market: A Meta-Analysis.” Economics of Education Review 19(2):149–58. doi:10.1016/S0272-7757(99)00057-6.
- Halaby, Charles N. 1994. “Overeducation and Skill Mismatch.” Sociology of Education 67(1):47–59. doi:10.2307/2112749.
- Illich, Ivan. 1971. Deschooling Society. New York: Harper and Row.
- Mincer, Jacob. 1989. “Human Capital and the Labor Market: A Review of Current Research.” Educational Researcher 18(4):27–34. doi:10.3102/0013189×018004027.
- Park, Jin Heum. 1999. “Estimation of Sheepskin Effects Using the Old and the New Measures of Educational Attainment in the Current Population Survey.” Economics Letters 62(2):237–40. doi:10.1016/s0165-1765(98)00226-2.
- Perl, Paul, and Patricia M. Y. Chang. 2000. “Credentialism across Creeds: Clergy Education and Stratiﬁcation in Protestant Denominations.” Journal for the Scientiﬁc Study of Religion 39(2):171–88. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00014.
- Rosenbaum, James E. 2001. Beyond College For All: Career Paths for the Forgotten Half. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Wilke, Arthur S. 1979. The Hidden Professoriate: Credentialism, Professionalism, and the Tenure Crisis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
- cultural capital
- grade inflation
- social capital
- status quo
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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.
Brinkerhoff, David, Lynn White, Suzanne Ortega, and Rose Weitz. 2011. Essentials of Sociology. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lindsey, Linda L. 2016. Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. 6th ed. New York: Routledge.
Metcalfe, Amy Scott, and Sheila Slaughter. 2007. “academic capitalism.” Pp. 1–13 in Gender and Education: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1, edited by B. Bank. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Collins, Randall. 1979. The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press.
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Cite the Definition of Credentialism
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “credentialism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 5, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
credentialism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “credentialism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“credentialism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/>.