Credentialism is a term used to describe a primary reliance on credentials for purposes of conferring jobs or social status[1]. In some jobs, employers require a diploma, academic degree, security clearance, or professional license for a job which does not require the specific training that is part of these credentials or for which the skills can be obtained by other means, such as experience and informal study. This is more common in white collar jobs as most blue collar jobs have traditionally used an apprentice system.

In some cases, the legal or "de facto" requirement for a credential helps to protect society, as in the case of the requirement for an M.D. degree to practise medicine or a B.Eng. degree to become a civil engineer and build bridges and dams. However, a number of white collar jobs require degrees that are not explicitly connected to the job requirements. Some banks require applicants for their financial advisor positions to have a degree in economics, even though the job, based around selling stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, does not require training in economics. Similarly, many state and federal governments in North America require policy analysts to have a university degree in any field to be hired, even though the writing and research skills needed to be a policy analyst could be gained by experience.

Employers that require credentials that are not explicitly related to the work tasks may be using the possession of the university degree as a screening mechanism, as the completion of a degree may serve as a proxy for measuring personal traits that are desirable in the workplace (e.g., finishing tasks, learning new skills, following instructions). They may also be using these requirements as a social class screen, to ensure that the candidates selected for a job are bona fide members of the middle class. By requiring a university degree for entry level office jobs, employers are in effect screening out candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as these individuals are much less likely to attend and complete a degree due to the many barriers that university attendance poses for them (financial, social, etc.). This screening approach may be unfair for competent, experienced people without university degrees; a skilled writer and editor with decades of experience may be unable to even get an interview as an entry-level policy analyst in the federal government.

Some professions rely to higher degree on credentials. In many cases, the granting of professional licenses has been institutionalized, with the power to grant licenses given to self-regulatory bodies, such as medical associations or law societies. Laws may dictate the need for a credential by a requirement that is set at the state, provincial, or federal level (e.g., the requirement that a civil engineer possess a B.Eng. degree). Credentials acquired in one country or region by a worker are often not fully recognized in other countries or even in other states or provinces. In Canada, a teaching certificate or bar membership (for a lawyer) is only valid in the province in which it is granted; a worker who moves to another province has to write the certification exams in the new province, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Immigrants with foreign credentials often find that their degrees are not recognized in their new country. In Canada and the US, immigrants with credentials from non-Western countries may have to complete a number of additional courses or follow a costly or lengthy re-certification process. Foreign medical doctors, even those with decades of experience, may have to enrol in a North American medical school and re-do their internship. Foreign tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers may have to start again in the apprenticing system. Faced with these hurdles, many immigrants find that they have to work in a field other than the one that they are trained in, a situation called underemployment. An Egyptian-trained surgeon may end up driving a cab in Canada, and a British-trained Zimbabwean engineer may end up delivering pizza in the US.

Opposition to credentialism is a tenet of the unschooling movement.

There is also negative credentialism, in which an arrest record, restraining order, dishonorable military discharge, bad credit rating, medical diagnosis, foreign birth, or other formal negative credential is used to discriminate against a person, even if the negative credential is mistaken, obsolete, irrelevant, or actually belongs to someone else with a similar name.

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of credentialism at the". 


  • The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification by Randall Collins, Academic Press, 1979.
  • Power in the Highest Degree: Professionals and the Rise of a New Mandarin Order by Charles Derber, William A. Schwartz, Yale Magrass, Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich, 1971.
  • Disabling Professions by Ivan Illich et al., 1977.
  • The Careless Society: community and its counterfeits by John McKnight, New York: BasicBooks, 1995.
  • Confessions of a Medical Heretic by Robert S. Mendelsohn, Chicago: Contemporary books, 1979.
  • Proving You're Qualified: Strategies for Competent People without College Degrees by Charles D. Hayes, Autodidactic Press, 1995.
  • Meehl, P. E. (1997). Credentialed persons, credentialed knowledge. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 4, 91-98.

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