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Study Notes

Davis and Moore on Education


Last updated 26 Nov 2019

Davis and Moore further developed the idea of the education system facilitating meritocracy.

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They argued that for society to function there had to be a system of unequal rewards. It is the ability to access a higher reward that encourages individuals to put in extra effort. In other words, social stratification (what others might term inequality) is essential. It is social stratification – a system of unequal rewards – that facilitates meritocracy.

Meritocracy works because of competition. The most important jobs, that need the most able and determined people to carry them out, bring the most rewards (highest pay). Through intense competition, the best get to the top. In this way, the education system sifts and sorts people into their appropriate roles.

Evaluating Davis and Moore

  • A Marxist criticism of this is that social stratification – or inequality – is precisely what means the education system manifestly fails to grade people by their ability or effort. Instead, the wealthy and powerful have all manner of advantages which the education system reinforces. Overwhelmingly the children of those with high-paid jobs leave the education system with the better qualifications and go on to get high-paid jobs themselves. This is not meritocracy, but instead the reproduction of inequality. The myth of meritocracy is what allows the rich to get away with entrenching their privilege and serves to convince everyone else that the process is fair.
  • It is also not clearly the case that those who get the best qualifications do necessarily go on to get the highest incomes. Factors such as social class also come into play here. Some people are able to access high salaries without good qualifications, thanks to family connections, while at the same time there are high levels of graduate unemployment and underemployment.


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