Meritocracy and the inheritance of advantage

David Comerford, José V. Rodríguez Mora*, Michael J. Watts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We present a model where more accurate information on the background of individuals facilitates statistical discrimination, increasing inequality and intergenerational persistence in income. Surprisingly, more accurate information on the actual capabilities of workers leads to the same result – firms give increased weight to the more accurate information, increasing inequality, which itself fosters discrimination. The rich take advantage of this through educational investments in their children, and mobility decreases as a consequence of an increase in the ability to reward talent. Using our model to interpret the data suggests that a country like the US might indeed be a land of opportunity for the sufficiently able, as conditional on ability background may have relatively little effect. Nevertheless the US has a relatively low degree of intergenerational mobility precisely because meritocracy facilitates a high correlation of ability with background.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-272
Number of pages46
JournalJournal of Economic Growth
Issue number2
Early online date5 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • meritocracy
  • intergenerational mobility
  • inequality
  • statistical discrimination


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