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The Meritocracy Myth


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Table of Contents

1 The American Dream: Origins and Prospects 2 On Being Made of the Right Stuff: The Case for Merit 3 The Silver Spoon: Inheritance and the Staggered Start 4 It's Not What You Know But . . .: Social and Cultural Capital 5 Making the Grade: Education and Mobility 6 I Did It My Way: The Decline of Self-Employment and the Ascent of Corporations 7 The Luck Factor: Being in the Right Place at the Right Time: 8 Mobility Through Marriage: The Cinderella Effect 9 An Unlevel Playing Field: Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms 10 Growing Inequality in the Twenty-First Century: What Can Be Done?

About the Author

Stephen J. McNamee is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He wrote previous editions of The Meritocracy Myth with Robert K. Miller, Jr. (1949-2015), who was also a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.


Balanced, well written, and sharply focused on the vexing question of who gets ahead and why. McNamee challenges anyone who has an opinion on inequality, jarring the contented, encouraging the discouraged, and inspiring the activists. Now in its 4th edition, The Meritocracy Myth remains a necessary and welcome addition to the syllabus of courses on social inequality. -- David J. Maume, Professor of Sociology, University of Cincinnati
I don't think there is a competitor that accomplishes what this book does-summarize the sociology of inequality in a clear, interesting, and succinct-yet-thorough fashion. The Meritocracy Myth provides a coherent perspective on the world. Many textbooks are a long mishmash of theories and facts; this one has a compelling message and point of view. -- Scott Harris, Saint Louis University
The Meritocracy Myth is an accessible text and a captivating subject of study for students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, both undergraduates and graduates. The author provides an excellent introduction to the idea of the American Dream and its tenets as well as the notion of meritocracy as a characteristic and the dominant ideology of US society. -- Wendy Brandon, Associate Professor of Education, Rollins College
American cultural explanations of success and failure-with their outsized emphases on the roles of hard work and smart choices-offer only a partial understanding of people's fortunes. This makes it difficult for Americans to fully understand social problems like inequalities based on race, class, and gender. Stephen McNamee's important book, The Meritocracy Myth, gives students and citizens alike a much deeper and more complete understanding of why some people succeed and some people fail. McNamee expertly explains how individuals are entangled in a web of forces that interact to shape their fortunes-from the impact of families and schools, to larger economic and political forces beyond our immediate environments and control. The fourth edition includes an additional section on marriage and mobility. To solve our most pressing problems, we need informed, engaged, and responsible citizens-this book is essential reading in that pursuit. -- Lawrence M. Eppard, Shippensburg University
Over and over again, I find myself choosing The Meritocracy Myth over other good books on US inequality. It meets my students where they are and systematically unravels their delusions. I frequently recommend it to colleagues and friends: to economists for the cultural analysis, to cultural sociologists for the structural critiques, and to activists to sharpen their persuasive powers. Most importantly, no one could read this book without becoming fired up to push our society towards fairness. -- Betsy Leondar-Wright, Lasell College
We are bombarded with messages that if you work hard you will succeed. The Meritocracy Myth deftly unpacks these messages, helping readers understand the processes at work that demystify this myth. With a new chapter on marriage and mobility, this edition deepens our understanding of the ways in which the playing field is not even and the system does not necessarily reward ability and talent. Now, more than ever, this book rings true. -- Leslie Hossfeld, Mississippi State University

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