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Middle English, from Anglo-French merite, from Latin meritum, from neuter of meritus, past participle of merēre to deserve, earn; akin to Greek meiresthai to receive as one's portion, meros part


  • 1 a obsolete : reward or punishment due
b : the qualities or actions that constitute the basis of one's deserts
c : a praiseworthy quality : virtue
d : character or conduct deserving reward, honor, or esteem; also : achievement
b : individual significance or justification


Meritocracy is a system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon demonstrated talent and ability (merit). In a meritocracy, society rewards (via wealth, position, and social status) those who show talent and competence as demonstrated by past actions or by competition. Evaluation systems, such as formal education, are closely linked to notions of meritocracy.

This is opposed to other value systems, where reward and legitimacy is based upon possession of wealth (plutocracy), origin (aristocracy), family connections (nepotism), property (oligarchy), friendship (cronyism), seniority (gerontocracy), popularity (democracy) or other historical determinants of social position and political power.

  • Origin of term

The term 'meritocracy' was first used in Michael Young's 1958 satirical book Rise of the Meritocracy. The term was intended to be pejorative, and his book was set in a dystopian future in which one's social place is determined by IQ plus effort. In the book, this social system ultimately leads to a social revolution in which the masses overthrow the elite, who have become arrogant and disconnected from public sentiment.

Despite the negative origin of the word, there are many who believe that a meritocratic system is a good thing. Proponents argue that a meritocratic system is more just and more productive than other systems, and that it allows for an end to distinctions based on arbitrary criteria such as sex, race, wealth and social connections. Conversely, detractors of meritocracy point to the central dystopian aspect of Young's conception: the existence of a meritocratic class that monopolizes access to merit and the symbols and markers of merit, thereby perpetuating its own power, social status, and privilege.

Meritocracy has been criticized as a myth which merely serves to justify the status quo; merit can always be defined as whatever results in success. Thus whoever is successful can be portrayed as meriting (deserving) success, rather than success being in fact predicated on rational, predetermined criteria of merit.[1]