Nepotism Essay

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Nepotism  is the  favoring of an employer’s relatives and friends in the workplace. The relative or friend is hired solely on the basis of kinship, regardless of any regard  for the  ability to  do the  job. The word nepotism is derived from the Latin word nepos, which means “nephew” or “grandchild.” The term came into use in the late Middle Ages from a practice of popes and bishops. Since they had taken a vow of chastity they normally had no children of their own, but they often  had nephews  to whom  preferment  was given in ecclesiastical employment. Some nephews preferred became cardinals. At least one, Rodrigo Borgia  (1431–1503)  became  a  pope  (Pope  Alexander VI). The general practice was outlawed in canon law by the papal bull, Romanun  decet Pontificem (1692), issued by Pope Innocent XII.

Hiring  family members  is an expected  aspect  of many cultures  around  the  world. The ties of blood create responsibilities for the welfare of family members, and giving them a job becomes very important to the solidarity of kinship relations. In societies where extended  families, which may be clans or tribal, are the primary social structure,  the practice of nepotism is either common  or an expected practice. The practice in the Third World by locals can have a negative effect because it creates a dead weight of incompetence among job holders who have demonstrated no merit. Globally it is a not unusual for smaller companies and many nonprofit  organizations to hire family members. Children may learn the family business by doing paid jobs.

Managers  from  Western  countries  where  nepotism is not the standard  practice have at times had to yield to local practices and hire numerous  family members. When commercial employers hire people who are related to each other, though not to the employer, it can have the benefit of making leading family members  responsible for other  family members. The steel industry  in the  United  States  long practiced hiring members of families recruited from eastern and southern  Europe because these families had close ties and would discipline their relatives if their jobs were put in jeopardy by the misbehavior of junior family members.

The opposite of nepotism is the creation of a meritocracy, where those with the most abilities are hired because it can be demonstrated by examinations  or by their performance  records. It is often the case that talent in high-performing individuals is found in their offspring, so that  the practice  of hiring the children of high achievers is sometimes simply allowing merit to have an opportunity.  Among Protestant ministers there have been families that have produced excellent ministers for generations.

Nepotism In Government

In the  United  States some  states  and  some  federal practices limit nepotism.  It is commonly denounced for  political  reasons,  as happened  when  President John F. Kennedy appointed  his brother  Robert Kennedy to be Attorney General. Elsewhere in the world there  has always been  a tendency  toward  dynastic succession.  The  succession  in  North  Korea,  Syria, Azerbaijan, and elsewhere has been that of father following son as his successor.

Wives have also followed husbands  even in situations where they were elected by the people. In Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning  simply appointed his wife Hazel Manning to the Cabinet for two terms. And nearby in Cuba Fidel Castro was succeeded by his brother Raul Castro. These and many other examples around  the  world create  monarchial  dynasties in what  are nominally  republics.  Business hiring  is often expected to follow the example of the political leadership. Nepotism often is accompanied  by negative effects such as bribery, favors or delays in bureaucratic decision-making  by those whose jobs depend upon kinship.

Business  hiring  is usually  viewed  as  purely  an economic  decision, unlike some governmental  hiring even  in  the  United  States.  However,  business hiring  in the  Third  World  may be unintentionally very political if it involves hiring members of different ethnic groups. The income and prestige of these jobs can change the balance of power between  the groups involved and threaten  to stimulate more ethnic conflict.



  1. Adam Bellow, In  Praise of Nepotism: A History of Family Enterprise from King David  to George W. Bush (Random House, 2004);
  2. Khai Sheang Lee, Guan Hua Lim, and Wei Shi Lim, “Family Business Succession: Appropriation Risk and  Choice  Successor,”  Academy  of Management Review (v.28/4, 2003);
  3. Tatu Vanhanen, Ethnic Conflicts Explained  by Ethnic Nepotism  (Emerald Group Publishing  1999);
  4. Tatu Vanhanen,  Politics of Ethnic Nepotism: India as an Example (Apt Books, 1991).

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