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Social Class, Meritocracy, and the Geography of the “American Dream”

  • Christopher Ellis EMAIL logo
From the journal The Forum


This paper uses original survey data to explore the landscape of support for a number of aspects of what might be called “the American Dream:” the notion that hard work is rewarded, and individuals succeed and fail due primarily to their own efforts. In general, I find that Americans generally endorse the idea that hard work leads to success and that economic mobility is possible for those willing to put in the effort, but that there is significant individual and contextual variation in support for those beliefs. I find that most variation in support for meritocratic belief is a function of simple partisan politics: differences between liberals and conservatives, and between Democrats and Republicans, are far more important to explaining meritocratic belief than any other sociodemographic factor. But attributes of the context in which one lives matter as well. Among other things, this paper highlights the importance of local economic decline as an important topic for future research: those who live in communities that have seen their relative economic fortunes drop over the past decade are less likely to believe in meritocracy than those who have seen their communities thrive.


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Published Online: 2017-5-17
Published in Print: 2017-4-25

©2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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