Although originally developed by R.K. Merton to explain advancement in scientific careers, cumulative advantage is a general mechanism for inequality across any temporal process (e.g., life course, family generations) in which a favorable relative position becomes a resource that produces further relative gains. This review shows that the term cumulative advantage has developed multiple meanings in the sociological literature. We distinguish between these alternative forms, discuss mechanisms that have been proposed in the literature that may produce cumulative advantage, and review the empirical literature in the areas of education, careers, and related life course processes.

Keyword(s): careersinequalitylife course

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  • Article Type: Review Article
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