From Academic Kids

Nepotism means favoring relatives or personal friends because of their relationship rather than because of their abilities. The word is generally used derogatorily.

For example, if a manager hired or promoted a relative rather than a more qualified non-relative, that manager would be guilty of nepotism. Some biologists have suggested that a tendency towards nepotism is instinctual, a form of kin selection.

The word nepotism comes from the Latin word nepos, meaning "nephew". In the Middle Ages, some Catholic popes and bishops, who had taken vows of chastity, raised their illegitimate sons as "nephews" and gave them preferences. Several popes are known to have elevated nephews and other relatives to the cardinalate. Often, such appointments were used as a means of continuing a papal "dynasty". For instance, Pope Callixtus III, of the Borgia family, made two of his nephews Cardinals; one of them, Rodrigo, later used his position as a Cardinal as a stepping stone to the papacy, becoming Pope Alexander VI. Coincidentally, Alexander—one of the most corrupt popes—elevated Alessandro Farnese, his mistress's brother, to the cardinalate; Farnese would later go on to become Pope Paul III. Paul also engaged in nepotism, appointing, for instance, two nephews (aged fourteen and sixteen) Cardinals. The practice was finally ended when Pope Innocent XII issued a bull in 1692. The papal bull prohibited popes in all times from bestowing estates, offices, or revenues on any relative, with the exception that one qualified relative (at most) could be made a Cardinal.

Nepotism is a common accusation in politics when the relative of a powerful figure ascends to similar power seemingly without appropriate qualifications. For example, in America, politically powerful families such as the Kennedy family and Bush family in American politics are sometimes accused of nepotism by critics. Recently, U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, when elected Governor of Alaska, appointed his daughter Representative Lisa Murkowski to fill the remaining two years of his seat and was accused of nepotism. (Murkowski won reelection on her own in 2004.) Families elsewhere have also dominated politics of their homeland, such as Tun Abdul Razak, second Prime Minister of Malaysia and his son, Najib Tun Razak, current Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, or Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (first Prime Minister of Singapore) and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, who recently succeeded Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister of Singapore.

In the U.K., the popular expression "And Bob's your uncle" originated when Robert Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, the Prime Minister, appointed his nephew, Arthur Balfour, to a prestigious position. The phrase was orignally a sarcastic jibe at nepotism, but today simply means "no problem."

In China, nepotism is seen in a positive light and is seen as a legitimate reason to get hired. In fact, some Chinese citizens sued the government of China because of the Great Leap Forward-forced migrations, claiming among other things that this separation from family impacted the possibilities of getting hired.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also been criticized for nepotism, as he poltically promoted both of his sons, Omri and Gilad.

The current record for nepotism and cronyism amongst leaders of states is held by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives, who at the last count had at least eleven family members, in-laws and cronies in his cabinet, plus numerous close relatives and friends in the highest government posts.

Nepotism has also been known humorously as payrola.

Nepot (n), beneficiary of nepotism. Credit: E. Snow, USA.


  • Francis Fitzgerald. 1972. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Boston: Back Bay Books. ISBN 0316159190. pp. 94-97, 126-127.

See also: cronyismde:Nepotismus eo:Nepotismo fr:Népotisme it:Nepotismo nl:Nepotisme no:Nepotisme pl:Nepotyzm fi:Nepotismi sv:Svågerpolitik


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