"Meritocracies also produce morally unattractive attitudes among those who make it to the top. The more we believe that our success is our own doing, the less likely we are to feel indebted to, and therefore obligated to, our fellow citizens....
These attitudes accompanied the market-driven globalization of the last 40 years......
Meritocratic hubris and the resentment it provokes are at the heart of the populist backlash against elites. They are also potent sources of social and political polarization. One of the deepest political divides in politics today is between those with and those without a four-year college degree."
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a GSS question: " Some people say that people get ahead by their own hard work; others say that lucky breaks or help from other people are more important. Which do you think is most important?" I noted that in recent years, college graduates seemed to be shifting towards "lucky breaks" while people who didn't have a college degree were shifting towards "hard work." I said that this seemed to start in 2008. However, there's a good deal of uncertainty about the estimates for individual years, so it's hard to be sure about the timing. After I wrote the post, it occurred to me that it might be more informative to look at cohort differences: it seems that opinions on this question might be established early in life and not too sensitive to current events. After some experimentation, I distinguished three cohorts: born before 1960; born 1960-78; and born in 1980 and after. I limited it to people aged 25 and over, and omitted blacks, since the views of different cohorts might be shaped by different experiences with racial discrimination. The results for non-graduates:
work both luck
oldest 67% 21% 12%
middle 72% 18% 10%
youngest 76% 14% 10%
A small movement towards "hard work" from the first two the second cohort, which continued from the second to the third. Now the results for graduates:
work both luck
oldest 62% 27% 11%
middle 66% 25% 9%
youngest 58% 27% 15%
From the first to the second cohort, there was a small movement towards "hard work," as there was among non-graduates. But from the second to the third, there was a movement towards "lucky breaks or help from other people"--that is, away from "meritocratic hubris." In all cohorts, college graduates were less likely to believe in "meritocracy" but the gap is biggest in the youngest cohort.
Of course, everyone in the youngest cohort is young (25-38), and maybe educated people move towards a belief in meritocracy as they age. I don't have time to investigate that now--maybe I'll look at it later. For now, I'll just say it's one more piece of evidence that supports something I said a few years ago (I called it "speculation" then): that American society has become (and is continuing to become) more socially egalitarian.