Must-Read: Cumulative advantage plus bureaucratic formally-meritocratic procedures that rely on “objective” indicators of achievement plus a degree of signaling but risk aversion do wind up producing something that looks a lot like a caste system. Thus I think Headworth and Freese misinterpret what their own results are really saying to them:

Spencer Headworth and Jeremy Freese: Credential Privilege or Cumulative Advantage?: Prestige, Productivity, and Placement in the Academic Sociology Job Market: “We examine different predictors of placement in research-oriented, tenure-track academic sociology jobs…

…The enormous relationship between PhD institution and job placement that has, in part, prompted a popular metaphor that academic job allocation processes are like a caste system. Yet we also find comparable relationships between PhD program and both graduate student publishing and awards. Overall, we find results more consistent with PhD prestige operating indirectly through mediating achievements or as a quality signal than as a ‘pure prestige’ effect. We suggest sociologists think of stratification in their profession as not requiring exceptionalist historical metaphors, but rather as involving the same ordinary but powerful processes of cumulative advantage that pervade contemporary life.