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Credentialism is a reliance on formal qualifications or certifications to determine whether someone is permitted to undertake a task or to speak as an expert.[1] It has also been defined as "excessive reliance on credentials, especially academic degrees, in determining hiring or promotion policies."[2]. It has been further defined as where the credentials for a job or a position are upgraded, even though, there is no skill change that makes this increase necessary [3]

The term also refers to an over-emphasis on certificates and degrees as a way of determining social status.[4] Credentialism can lead to credential inflation. Sociologist Randall Collins' 1979 book The Credential Society "examine[s] the connection between credentialism and stratification." [5]

Over the past sixty years in the Western world, and more recently in developing countries, there has been significant growth in the number of people who have educational credentials, an increase in the number of credentialing bodies and a growth in the use of educational credentials as a way of selecting people for employment [6]

An employer may require a diploma, professional license or academic degree for a job which can be done by applying skills acquired through experience, informal study, or less extensive study. One example is the requirement by some investment banks that new hires have an M.Sc. in Economics. Jobs that in the past required a high school diploma, such as entry level policy analysts in the government increasingly require a B.A. or even an M.A. during the screening process.[citation needed]

Credentialism can be lessened if certification accurately reflects actual skill competencies and expectations of skill competencies. As Buon & Compton (1990) state, given that the entire recruitment process is aimed at predicting future success, it does not make a great deal of sense to rely on only one indicator (i.e. educational credentials). [7]. The results of at least one study support this view and suggests that employers see experience as a better indication of potential work performance than educational credentials [8].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Credentialism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2014 from
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  5. ^ Boundless. “The Credentialized Society.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 14 Nov. 2014. Retrieved 08 Jan. 2015 from
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Further reading[edit]

  • Brown, D. (2001) The Social Sources of Educational Credentialism: Status Cultures, Labour Markets and Organisations. Sociology of Education Extra Issue 2001; 19-34. Available at:

  • Randall Collins, The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification, Academic Press, 1979.
  • Ronald Dore (1976) "The Diploma Disease: Education, Qualification, and Development"
  • Charles D. Hayes, Proving You're Qualified: Strategies for Competent People without College Degrees, Autodidactic Press, 1995.
  • Charles Derber, William A. Schwartz, Yale Magrass, Power in the Highest Degree: Professionals and the Rise of a New Mandarin Order, Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • John McKnight, The Careless Society: community and its counterfeits, New York, BasicBooks, 1995.
  • Meehl, P.E., Credentialed persons, credentialed knowledge. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 4, 91-98, 1997.
  • Robert S. Mendelsohn, Confessions of a Medical Heretic, Chicago: Contemporary books, 1979.
  • Ivan Illich, Irving K. Zola, John McKnight, Disabling Professions, 1977.
  • Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1971.
  • Woodward, Orrin & Oliver DeMille 'LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up & Lead" Grand Central Publishing 2013
  • Sarah Kendzior (2014), "College is a promise the economy does not keep" (Al Jazeera)