Late industrialization and the increased merit selection hypothesis - Ireland as a test case

C T Whelan, R Layte

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    The Irish case provides a particularly appropriate test of the increasing merit selection hypothesis deriving from the liberal theory of industrialization. This is so not only because the lateness and speed of economic change allows us to capture such change through a set of national surveys conducted in the past three decades, but also because such change was based on a sustained policy of increased openness to international competitive forces. The functional requirements of the economy and a rapid increase in the supply of those with higher educational qualifications provided an ideal context in which to observe the movement from ascription to achievement predicted by the liberal theory. However, while changes in the class structure and a rapid expansion of educational opportunity had significant consequences in terms of absolute mobility, there was no evidence of a significant shift towards meritocratic principles. At the same time as the service class increased their advantage over other classes in the pursuit of educational qualifications, the impact of educational qualifications on class destination diminished. Controlling for education, we find that the impact of class origin effects is substantial and shows little sign of diminishing over time. In our conclusion we discuss the implications of our findings in the context of the recent debate on meritocracy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)35-50
    Number of pages16
    JournalEuropean Sociological Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2002

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

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