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".

Matthew Effect? Let’s understand…

Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Matthew who loved to read. He would spend hours every day with his nose buried in a book, devouring stories of all kinds. 

As he grew older, he became an accomplished reader and was known throughout his community for his love of literature.

One day, a new library opened in the town square and Matthew was thrilled. He couldn’t wait to explore all the new books it had to offer. When he arrived, he was greeted by the librarian who told him about the library’s special program for young readers. 

The program was designed to encourage children to read more by rewarding them with new books for every ten books they read.

Matthew was overjoyed and set to work reading as many books as he could. He quickly amassed a large collection of new books, and his love of reading grew even stronger. His peers saw this and started to take notice of his success. 

They soon began to follow his example, reading more and more books themselves.

As time passed, Matthew and his peers continued to read and grow in their knowledge and understanding of the world. They became more successful in school, and many went on to prestigious universities. They became successful and respected members of the community, known for their intelligence and curiosity.

Matthew’s success had a ripple effect, inspiring others around him to read more and become more successful as well. 

This phenomenon is known as the Matthew Effect, which states that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” 

This story illustrates how small advantages can accumulate and lead to larger advantages over time, and how the early advantages can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of success.

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

The Matthew Effect is a concept that was first described by sociologist Robert K. Merton in his 1968 paper “The Matthew Effect in Science”. The paper was published in the journal Science and was based on Merton’s research on the sociology of science.

In the paper, Merton used the parable of the talents from the Bible (Matthew 25:14-30) to illustrate how the accumulation of small advantages can lead to larger advantages over time. 

He applied this concept to the field of science and showed how the initial recognition and resources received by prominent scientists can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of success, where they are more likely to receive further recognition and resources, while less-established scientists may struggle to gain recognition and resources.

The Matthew Effect, in this sense, refers to how recognition, resources, and credit tend to be disproportionately allocated to those who already have a significant reputation, while those who are less established struggle to gain recognition. 

The concept has since been applied to other fields, such as education and economics, to explain how small initial advantages can accumulate and lead to larger advantages over time.

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.

Matthew Effect where?

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 conflicted 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.

It is important to be aware of the Matthew Effect and its potential impact on our lives and society. For example, in education, it can create an uneven playing field where some students have access to more resources and opportunities than others, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle of success. 

Similarly, in the job market, some individuals may have an easier time finding employment and advancing in their careers due to their connections, while others may struggle to gain recognition and resources.

The Matthew Effect highlights the importance of providing equal opportunities and resources to all individuals, regardless of their initial advantages or disadvantages. 

By doing so, we can help to create a more fair and equitable society where everyone has the chance to succeed.

We encourage you to think about the Matthew Effect in your own life and consider ways in which you can work to create a more fair and equitable society.

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