The Matthew Effect

William Meller - The Matthew Effect

The Matthew Effect or Matthew Principle of accumulated advantage, is sometimes summarized by the adage "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer".

The concept is applicable to matters of fame or status, but may also be applied literally to the cumulative advantage of economic capital. 

The term was coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton and his wife, sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, in 1968 and takes its name from the Parable of the Talents in the biblical Gospel of Matthew. 

In the beginning, it was primarily focused on the inequality in the way scientists were recognized for their work. However, Norman W. Storer, of Columbia University, led a new wave of research. He believed he discovered that the inequality that existed in the social sciences also existed in other institutions.

The Matthew effect may largely be explained by preferential attachment whereby individuals probabilistically accrue a total reward (popularity, friends, wealth, etc.) in proportion to their existing degree. 

The Matthew effect was seen as pathology because it conflicts with meritocracy in science.

This has the net effect of it being increasingly difficult for low ranked individuals to increase their totals, as they have fewer resources to risk over time and increasingly easy for high rank individuals to preserve a large total, as they have a large amount to risk.

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