Publication Date

Summer 7-31-2007


Meritocratic attitudes are defined as general beliefs that education and its correlates should determine personal economic outcomes. Using the International Social Survey Project (ISSP): Social Inequality Module (1992), we examine both individual-level and country-level determinants of pro-meritocratic attitudes. According to self-interest and rational-action theories, individuals with high educational attainment and high personal income are expected to have strong meritocratic beliefs because meritocracy is in their best interest—they would gain under such a system. At the same time, both modernization and post-industrial theories imply that persons living in countries with a high degree of societal meritocracy hold stronger meritocratic beliefs than persons living in countries with low degree of societal meritocracy. Results of the Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) analysis on a data set including 7,972 persons from 14 countries indicate that the impact of individuals’ education and income on meritocratic attitudes occurred as theoretically predicted. We also demonstrate that the relationship between the degree of societal meritocracy and the degree of support for such a system is statistically significant even if national wealth and educational stock (as well as individual-level variables) are controlled. In addition, we discovered that at the beginning of the 1990s a post-communist regime had a negative effect on support for meritocracy.

Document Type



meritocratic attitudes, self-interest theory, rational-action theory, meritocracy, inequality, multilevel analysis, social change, post-industrial societies, systems of distribution


Inequality and Stratification | Other Sociology | Personality and Social Contexts | Politics and Social Change | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture | Theory, Knowledge and Science

Part of

Kunovich, Sheri, and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski. 2007. “Systems of Distribution and a Sense of Equity: A Multilevel Analysis of Meritocratic Attitudes in Post-industrial Societies.” European Sociological Review 23, no.5:649-663.



Sheri Kunovich, Southern Methodist University,Department of Sociology, Campus Box 750192,Dallas, TX 75275, USA. Email:

Kazimierz M. Slomczynski (to whom correspondence should be addressed), Ohio State University,Department of Sociology, 300 Bricker Hall, 190 North Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210, USA,Email:


17 pages




The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


European Sociological Review




We thank Robert Michael Kunovich and the anonymous reviewers at European Sociological Review for their helpful comments.