The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and compensatory advantage

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (also kwon as the frequency bias)

is the phenomenon where something you recently learned or paid attention to suddenly appears ‘everywhere’. 

In my case patterns of compensatory advantage (CA) tend to crop up not ‘everywhere’ but still quite often, also while I am not directly working on CA

The key insight of the notion of CA is that the life course trajectories of individuals from privileged backgrounds are less dependent on prior negative outcomes or on some disadvantageous trait or event when compared to individuals from lower classes (Bernardi 2014). The notion of CA has been applied to a broad spectrum of outcomes. In the case of occupational attainment, the social origin gap (i.e. advantage that subjects of the upper class experience for occupational attainment and income compared with subjects of the lower class of the same level of education, also known as the direct effect of social origins – DESO) have shown that such gap is larger among lower educational achievers (for a review, Bernardi, Ballarino 2016). Individuals with low educational attainment but high social origins manage to get jobs with higher socio-economic status, on average, and more frequently avoid unskilled working class positions, compared to individuals of the same low education and low social origins. 

Going back to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I was reading the chapter by Goldthorpe and Jackson (2008) on Education-Based meritocracy for a revision that I am doing on a paper on the social-origins gap, and my attention was captured by the graph that I reproduce here.

Figure 3.6 from Goldthorpe and Jackson (2008)

The graph shows the probabilities of entering the upper class for individuals of differing qualifications and social origins in the 1970s and early 1990s in Britain. As the authors wrote, “ it can be seen that individuals with degree-level qualifications have around 90 percent chance of entering the salariat [upper class], regardless of whether they are of salariat origin or not, …However, for individuals with relatively low educational attainment – those with no more than lower secondary qualification -their chances of gaining access to the salariat do clearly differ according to their class of origins” (Goldthorpe, Jackson 2008, 107). Among low qualified individuals the probability of accessing the upper class is much higher for those of salariat origin. This could be a nice example of Baader-Meinhof phenomenon for my research interest but it is also a very clear example of compensatory social origin advantage in class attainment Britain. The graph even suggests that such compensatory advantage has become stronger in the younger cohort.


Bernardi, F. (2014), “Compensatory Advantage as a Mechanism of Educational Inequality. A Regression Discontinuity Based on Month of Birth”, Sociology of Education, 87, (2), 74-88.

Bernardi, F. and Ballarino, G. (2016) (eds), Education, Occupation and Social Origin. A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities, Cheltenham and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Bernardi, F. and Triventi, M. (2020), “Compensatory advantage in educational transitions. Trivial or substantial? A simulated scenario analysis”, Acta Sociologica, 63, 1: 40-62 

Goldthorpe, JH, Jackson, M (2008) Education-based meritocracy: the barriers to its realisation. In: Lareau, A, Conley, D (eds) Social Class: How Does It Work? New York: Russell Sage, pp. 93–117. 

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