Life sometimes imitates art. Written in the 1950s as science fiction, Michael Young’s The rise of the meritocracy has turned out to be surprisingly realistic in hindsight. Many Western European countries underwent major educational transformations in the second half of the past century, which have strongly enhanced the meritocratic nature of society. First, we describe the relationship between education and meritocracy and how we classify educational levels. Second, we describe how the enormous educational expansion in the second half of the twentieth century has constituted a critical juncture for the rise of new social and political divides. The chapter documents how the number of well-educated citizens has risen spectacularly in the past decades, and it explores competing claims with respect to the impact of this educational revolution.
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