I've only been in the professional workspace for 5 years now, so I probably don't have the perspective that most of you do. I like the idea of a meritocracy, having benefited from it myself going from a math degree with no computer background to the early stages of a DBA job. However, one thing that makes me wary is companies that use managerial positions as a way of rewarding good work. I know I'd personally suck at being a manager - I just don't have that skill set. I want to know that I can grow in my role and be a really good DBA who can bring a ton of value to the company and be rewarded just for that rather than being pushed into a higher level or thought lacking in ambition.
I have been fortunate that my work for for Fortune 500 companies has all been in independent subsidiaries or tertiary IT type work as a temp. My last company (10 years) I was as a programmer and then moved into the DBA position they created for me. They realized that I would never be good as a wetware manager, but give me a server and I can make it dance.
My current job was a brand new DBA position on a support desk to support trouble shooting production DB/SW issues without disturbing the developers. In the interview I told them I can manage project teams and do training but I don't want to manage people on an ongoing basis. They liked that. I make about $10-15K less than my manager and enjoy my job. There is also no push to go into wetware management, but I do so much (including network sysadmin stuff) they have given me regular raises.
The other question that needs to be at least viewed, if not answered is how many DBA's are in a typical company? Even a 24/7 operation may only have three - five production DBA types and two - four dev/QA DBA's. A meritocracy among those few people doesn't really matter. But lumping them into the rest of an IT department that is running 200+ servers and has 50 IT people is a questionable evaluation.
A little bit of this and a little byte of that can cause bloatware.