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Definition of Meritocracy

(noun) A system that fosters and rewards personal effort, ability, and talent through competition to determine social standing.

Etymology of Meritocracy

Meritocracy Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: mer·i·toc·ra·cy

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /mair-uh-tAHk-ruh-see/
  • British English – /me-ri-tOk-ruh-see/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˌmɛrəˈtɑkrəsi/
  • British English – /ˌmɛrᵻˈtɒkrəsi/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: meritocracies
  • A (noun) meritocrat advocates (adjective) meritocratic principles.

Related Videos

Related Quotations

  • “By depriving people of access to opportunities, for instance, discrimination often leads to lack of qualification for them. The involuntary ascribed and negatively evaluated categorical status that emerges from discrimination not only takes precedence over any achieved status but reduces the probability of such achievement, thereby lowering all life chances. Put simply, discrimination makes it more difficult for the objects of discrimination to develop merit and reduces the likelihood that their merit will be recognized and rewarded” (McNamee and Miller 2013:180).
  • [D]iscrimination creates a terrible irony: the very discrimination that invalidates the American Dream for many Americans creates conditions that seem to validate it for others, enabling them to embrace it so fervently. By excluding entire categories of people from equal access to opportunity, discrimination has reduced competition and increased the chances to get ahead of others, who often mistakenly conclude that their own success is based exclusively on the own individual ‘merit'” (McNamee and Miller 2013:18).
  • “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).
  • “In the image of the American Dream, America is the land of opportunity. Presumably, if you work hard enough and are talented enough, you can overcome any obstacle and achieve success. No matter where you start out in life, the sky is ostensibly the limit. According to the promise implied by the American Dream, you can go as far as your talents and abilities can take you” (McNamee and Miller 2013:1).
  • “While ‘merit’ is characteristic of individuals, ‘meritocracy’ is a characteristic of societies as a whole” (McNamee and Miller 2013:1).

Additional Information

Related Terms


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

McNamee, Stephen J., and Robert K. Miller, Jr. 2013. The Meritocracy Myth. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Works Consulted

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Cite the Definition of Meritocracy

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “meritocracy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/meritocracy/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

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

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

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “meritocracy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/meritocracy/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“meritocracy.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 23 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/meritocracy/>.