Educationism and the irony of meritocracy: negative attitudes of higher educated people towards the less educated

Kuppens, Toon, Spears, Russell, Manstead, Antony S R, Spruyt, Bram and Easterbrook, Matthew (2018) Educationism and the irony of meritocracy: negative attitudes of higher educated people towards the less educated. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76. pp. 429-447. ISSN 0022-1031

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial No Derivatives.

Download (837kB)


Social psychology has studied ethnic, gender, age, national, and other social groups but has neglected education-based groups. This is surprising given the importance of education in predicting people’s life outcomes and social attitudes. We study whether and why people evaluate education-based in-groups and out-groups differently. In contrast with popular views of the higher educated as tolerant and morally enlightened, we find that higher educated participants show education-based intergroup bias: They hold more negative attitudes towards less educated people than towards highly educated people. This is true both on direct measures (Studies 1-2) and on more indirect measures (Studies 3-4). The less educated do not show such education-based intergroup bias. In Studies 5-7 we investigate attributions regarding a range of disadvantaged groups. Less educated people are seen as more responsible and blameworthy for their situation, as compared to poor people or working class people. This shows that the psychological consequences of social inequality are worse when they are framed in terms of education rather than income or occupation. Finally, meritocracy beliefs are related to higher ratings of responsibility and blameworthiness, indicating that the processes we study are related to ideological beliefs. The findings are discussed in light of the role that education plays in the legitimization of social inequality.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: educationism, attribution, intergroup bias, education-based groups
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Depositing User: Ellena Adams
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2017 13:39
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2021 17:54

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update