The Matthew effect or the principle of accumulated advantage is the idea that those who have already achieved success in a certain field tend to receive more recognition and opportunities for advancement than those who are just beginning.
The result is an ever-widening difference between the advantaged and disadvantaged, often described as the rich get the richer syndrome. This can be seen in business, public relations, education, and many other fields.
The Matthew effect is a phenomenon that was first observed by Robert K. Merton in 1968. It was actually originally borrowed from the Parable of Talents in the Bible: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Mathew 25)
This concept can be applied to a variety of social and educational contexts,
In education, the Matthew effect can be used to explain why some students are more successful than others in terms of academic achievement. Those already proficient in a particular subject matter are more likely to receive recognition and accolades from their peers and teachers.
This recognition can come in the form of awards, scholarships, and more. As a result, those students are likely to be more successful in the long run than those who are just starting out.
The Mathew effect in public relations, business, and politics
The Matthew effect can also be seen in the real world. For example, those who are already successful in business and other fields are likely to receive more recognition and opportunities for advancement than those who are just starting out.
This can lead to a cycle of success, as those who have achieved success in one area of life are more likely to receive more recognition and more opportunities in other areas as well.
In the field of investment, this has the net effect of making it increasingly difficult for low-ranked individuals to increase their wealth because they have fewer resources to risk over time. Conversely, it is increasingly easier for high-net-worth individuals to preserve their wealth because they have larger amounts to risk and invest.
In politics, wealthier politicians are able to capitalize on their success and status to become more affluent. Because of their affluence and positions, many more doors open and many more moneymaking prospects come to their attention on preferential terms.
In the public relations and advertising business, the Mathew effect also plays out quite well. The biggest accounts tend to go to the bigger agencies. A few niche specialist agencies occasionally rise to disrupt the industry, but the status quo eventually remains with the small staying small.
The 3 ways to leverage the Mathew effect in business and public relations are:
- “When prosperity comes, do not waste it.” When you gain momentum, seize it, ride it, and maximize it
- Strive to reach a level of competency in a particular niche as quickly as possible
- Focus on building relationships with key influencers in various facets of society, and leverage their reach to also grow your influence and raise your brand profile
The Matthew effect (winner takes all mentality) is an important concept to help you to better understand why some people are more successful than others. By recognizing the power of the Matthew effect, we can work towards creating a more equitable society, and also leverage it to work for you, not against you.