Summary: The idea of an education-based meritocracy (EBM) has evident political attractions. It suggests a basis on which the objectives of social efficiency and social justice might be reconciled. However, the question is raised of its sociological viability. Three processes of change are identified - concerning the relationships between individuals' social origins, their educational attainments and the level of employment they achieve - each of which should be observed in any society that is moving towards an EBM. Results of analyses based on several different data-sets are then presented which indicate that in Britain these changes are not in fact in train; and similar results from other modern societies are noted. It is further argued that the barriers to the realisation of an EBM to which these findings point are of more than a transient kind. Some might be reduced through political intervention, though perhaps of a more radical kind than proponents of an EBM would wish to contemplate; but others would appear quite integral to modern market-based economies and societies.