A new criterion is introduced for the onset of shear thickening in a concentrated dispersion. The criterion follows from the assumption that shear thickening occurs when the shear forces overrule the interparticle forces. A force balance at small interparticle distances is used to predict the dependence of this critical shear rate on the volume fraction. It is deduced that the critical shear rate is proportional to the interparticle distance, has a linear dependence on the magnitude of the stabilizing force, an inverse linear dependence on the dispersion medium viscosity, and an inverse linear dependence on the particle radius. The model is confirmed experimentally with viscosity measurements on various electrostatically stabilized dispersions. The validity of the model is also checked with data obtained from the literature. Experiments indicate that polydisperse dispersions exhibit pronounced shear thickening but with a less dramatic increase in viscosity than monodisperse dispersions.