Sigma: Journal of Political and International Studies


Ali Critchfield


American dream, meritocratic dream, grace, inequality


In the face of growing inequality in the United States, researchers have sought to understand why there is not a proportionate level of public concern over widening economic disparities (Kim 2023, 39–54). Much research in this area is grounded in the idea that America has become a meritocracy, where success is earned by merit. Despite the nation’s Puritan beginnings that emphasized that God’s grace, not works, are what led to salvation and success, the country has taken on a meritocratic core, one that effectively eliminates grace in the pursuit of material success. This way of thinking has compounded with the psychological tendencies of the fundamental attribution error and the heuristic of deservingness. If success, or a lack thereof, is solely due to personal effort, then those who triumph and those who fail deserve their fate. In this paper, I study how people attribute blame for failure of the American Dream and under what conditions they are willing to offer grace to someone who fails. Through experimental survey data, I find that meritocratic thinking is deeply ingrained in American thought and priming for grace is a complex task.