What are some arguments against meritocracy

Limits of meritocracy or why quota regulations make sense


The economic theory was able to prove that economic discrimination cannot last for a long time because market mechanisms eliminate conscious or unconscious misjudgment of the performance of applicants through competition. In contrast to these results, the article uses a theoretical model to show that, in typical selection situations, the meritocratic practice of selecting applicants for educational institutions does not impair important success indicators of the institutions, even if a certain group of applicants is severely discriminated against. Because these results are obtained under very general conditions with regard to test reliabilities and distributional assumptions, they can serve as a theoretical basis for explaining many empirical studies that determine ongoing discrimination in non-economic areas and as a general critique of the limits of meritocracy.


Economic theory has shown that economic discrimination cannot persist for longer periods due to the intervention of market mechanisms. In contrast to this view, this article will demonstrate by using a theoretical model that in typical selection situations the practice of admitting persons to educational institutions while strongly discriminating against a particular group of applicants does not affect important success indicators of those educational institutions. As this observation also holds true under very general circumstances with respect to test reliabilities and distributional assumptions, it can therefore be used as a theoretical basis for many empirical investigations of persisting discrimination in non-economic spheres and for a general critique of meritocratic selection procedures.


  1. 1.

    See http://www.uni-koeln.de/kzfss/stoffen/KS-66-1-mueller-benedict.pdf.

  2. 2.

    The simulation algorithm and the calculations were written as a STATA program, the calculations for the bivariate normal distribution were carried out with EXCEL. Both can be requested from the author.


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Author information


  1. Center for Methodology, University of Flensburg, Auf dem Campus 1, 24943, Flensburg, Germany

    Volker Müller-Benedict

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Volker Müller-Benedict.

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Müller-Benedict, V. Limits of meritocracy or why quota regulations make sense. Cologne Z Sociol66, 115-131 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11577-013-0249-y

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  • Discrimination
  • competitor
  • Quota regulation
  • Fair tests
  • Educational achievement
  • grades
  • selection
  • meritocracy


  • Discrimination
  • Competition
  • Fair tests
  • Selection
  • Success of educational institutions
  • Degree
  • Quota regulations
  • Meritocracy