mer·​i·​toc·​ra·​cy ˌmer-ə-ˈtä-krə-sē How to pronounce meritocracy (audio)
plural meritocracies
: a system, organization, or society in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success, power, and influence on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit (see merit entry 1 sense 1b)
Only the elite, in that new meritocracy, would enjoy the opportunity for self-fulfillment …Robert Penn Warren
Though founded theoretically on principles of meritocracy, the public arena was parceled into spheres of personal influence …Mac Margolis
A paradox lies at the heart of this new American meritocracy. Merit has replaced the old system of inherited privilege … . But merit, it turns out, is at least partly class-based. Parents with money, education and connections cultivate in their children the habits that the meritocracy rewards.Janny Scott et al.
also : the people who are moved into such positions
a member of the meritocracy
France remains a tightly centralized nation, run by a governmental and business meritocracy carefully prepared for positions of power in elite graduate schools. Jim Hoagland
meritocratic adjective

Examples of meritocracy in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web It's been about meritocracy and the way to achieve social status in the U.S. is based on education. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 16 Dec. 2023 This is a great example of how the limits of DEI are in meritocracy. Letters To The Editor, Orlando Sentinel, 10 Jan. 2024 Despite the provocative title, the work is a strong defense of liberalism, arguing that some forms of nondemocratic rule, such as a meritocracy based on Confucian values, could better preserve liberal values than democracy can. Rana Mitter, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Competitive sports is a true meritocracy in a world where that is difficult to find. Richard Obert, The Arizona Republic, 14 Jan. 2024 There is no meritocracy for legacy admissions, right? Dana Taylor, USA TODAY, 11 Jan. 2024 The mainstream Right still contends there’s another path forward: the Right as the party of safe streets, parental rights, wealth creation, color-blind meritocracy, and competent, cost-effective government. Heather Wilhelm, National Review, 9 Nov. 2023 Despite the many scandals and exposés of systematic misbehavior, bias, assault, and toxicity, the myth of comedy as a meritocracy full of brave, admirable rebels fighting for justice and freedom simply refuses to die. Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 5 June 2023 The paintings were hung by the dead hand of phallocentric meritocracy — all those works by men, ew, all that God stuff with the floating bare-butt baby angels and rapturous virgins, all those mythological scenes of conquest and violence. James Lileks, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'meritocracy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


merit entry 1 + -o- + -cracy

Note: The neologism meritocracy was apparently first used in print by the British industrial sociologist Alan Fox (1920-2002) in the article "Class and Equality," Socialist Commentary, May, 1956, pp. 11-13. The word is now closely associated with the book The Rise of the Meritocracy (London: Thames & Hudson, 1958) by the sociologist and politician Michael Young (1915-2002), who is often credited with its coinage.

First Known Use

1956, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of meritocracy was in 1956

Dictionary Entries Near meritocracy

Cite this Entry

“Meritocracy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

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