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The Mathew Effect

The Matthew effect describes a situation where those who already have an advantage, like wealth, knowledge, or social status, tend to accumulate even more advantage over time.

The term comes from the Gospel of Matthew (25:29): "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."

Here are some specific areas where the Matthew effect can be seen:

  • Education: Students who start school with strong reading skills tend to improve faster, while those who struggle initially fall further behind.
  • Science: Established scientists tend to get more credit for research, even if the work was done by lesser-known colleagues.
  • Networks: People with higher social status often have access to powerful networks of connections.
  • Intergenerational Mobility: Children born into privilege are more likely to maintain or improve their social status than those born into poverty.
The Matthew effect plays a significant role in social structure by reinforcing existing inequalities.

There is a cumulative advantage for people with higher social status or wealth because they have access to more resources and opportunities. These advantages allowing them to further increase their social standing. Conversely, people with lower social status often lack the resources and opportunities and it is harder for them to improve their social mobility and climb the social ladder.

The Matthew effect is a complex concept that contributes to social stratification. By understanding how it works, we can work towards mitigating the effects.