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Definitions of Credentialism

  1. (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.
  2. (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.

Credentialism Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: cre·den·tial·ism

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • 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/

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).
  • “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).

Related Video

Additional Information

Related Terms


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

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.

Works Consulted

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

Griffiths, Heather, Nathan Keirns, Eric Strayer, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Gail Scaramuzzo, Tommy Sadler, Sally Vyain, Jeff Bry, Faye Jones. 2016. Introduction to Sociology 2e. Houston, TX: OpenStax.

Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2011. Sociology: The Core. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kendall, Diana. 2011. Sociology in Our Times. 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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

Macmillan. (N.d.) Macmillan Dictionary. (https://www.macmillandictionary.com/).

Schaefer, Richard. 2013. Sociology: A Brief Introduction. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Shepard, Jon M. 2010. Sociology. 11th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Thompson, William E., and Joseph V. Hickey. 2012. Society in Focus: An Introduction to Sociology. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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

Cite the Definition of Credentialism

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “credentialism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved May 28, 2024 (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 May 28, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“credentialism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 28 May. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/credentialism/>.