The Meritocracy Myth

Instead of rewarding high-achievers, the meritocratic system reinforces existing class hierarchies and makes it harder for everyone to live successfully and securely.

Luca D'Agruma

To measure the competency and intelligence of children, our education system ranks them. Through every facet of our world, children are scored, tested, and set against each other in a vicious fight for academic resources and opportunities. 

Schools and communities are ranked and categorized, and from birth, parents fret over sending their children to the “best ranked” preschools, elementary schools, and high schools. 

Families flee from cities, searching for the perfect suburban nest to nurture and prepare their children for what is to come: a winner-take-all game for a financially secure life. 

Our American meritocracy is broken. Instead of rewarding the hardest workers, rewards go to those gifted with the most resources. It’s not a fair game if someone starts on third base. 

Our education system creates a hierarchy of success by sorting children into classes. 

However, above intelligence, familial wealth is the single most important factor for career success and college admissions. 

The U.S. meritocratic system promises socioeconomic mobility: if you work hard, you can move up in the world. The American dream promises success with hard work, but America consistently ranks low among peer nations. 

America is ranked 27 in the Global Social Mobility Index, and other metrics tell a similar story. Absolute mobility, how many people make more than their parents, has fallen from 90% to 50%. 

According to the right-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, the highest income brackets see the highest rates of downward mobility, meaning it’s highly likely that a rich kid will make less than their parents. 

When underprivileged kids miss out on an opportunity like gifted programs, it permanently sets them back, while privileged kids get a larger and larger slice of the pie. 

The Ivy League is a simple example of this problem. We’d think that the most prestigious schools with the highest concentrations of opportunities, resources, and connections would only be available to the hardest-working or most intelligent. 

Still, the statistics reveal that it’s easier to get in if you know the right people, even if poorer and less connected kids have accomplished more. 

The exclusionary system of prestige launders wealth within a closed circle. Parents want what’s best for their children. 

It’s why they send them to the best schools, spend countless nights helping them with homework, or endless hours curating the perfect application for a top-ranked preschool, but the pressures placed on the elites’ children are harmful. 

Instead of constraining affluent kids to a stressful, fast-track plan aiming to ensure stable income and hurting poor kids by limiting their opportunities, the government should expand universal programs and pre-K, college, and vocational schools to increase social mobility. 

Instead of constraining successful careers to a narrow view of wealth, we should create alternatives by investing in social programs to increase equality of outcomes and financial security for everyone no matter their background.