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meritocracya form of society in which educational and social success is the outcome of ability (measured by IQ) and individual effort. The notion, given prominence by Michael Young (The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1958), figured prominently in the work of Fabian socialists who did much to promote it as a guiding principle to legitimate the changes sought in the 1944 Education Act and the subsequent drive to secondary reorganization along comprehensive lines. Meritocracy emphasizes equality of competition rather than equality of outcome, assuming that positions in an occupational hierarchy will be obtained as a result of achievement on merit against universal, objective criteria, rather than on ascribed criteria of age, gender, race, or inherited wealth. No person of quality, competence or appropriate character should be denied the opportunity to achieve a commensurate social status. Essential to the concept of meritocracy is the belief that only a limited pool of talent exists and that it is an important function of the education system to see that such talent is not wasted but is developed and fostered. (See also FUNCTIONALIST THEORY OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION).
The principle of meritocracy is by no means universally accepted. Young himself was ambivalent about some of its consequences, e.g. a denuding of working-class culture and working-class leadership. Major criticisms have also come from those who argue that genuine EQUALITY can only be achieved by the adoption of strategies which are designed to produce greater equality as an end product of the system rather than at its starting point. In any event, those advocating the meritocratic view have to resolve the recurring difficulty of devising objective measures of ability. See also INTELLIGENCE.