Is America a World Leader in Nepotism?

News & Politics

Hi, everyone, how are you? If your name is Ivanka (there really aren’t that many of you), then maybe you had a great week. Maybe you got a new job with your dad with perks like access to classified information from the US government (chances are much higher if your last name is Trump).

Which brings me to the subject of this week’s DIY fact check: nepotism. Let’s find out how many Americans get a $110 denim shoe-in thanks to their old man. And while we’re at it, let’s find out whether nepotism is more prevalent in the United States than other countries.

Step 1:Find out how many people get a job with the help of their father. I know, I know, I know – “what about the nepotistic mothers?” I hear you ask (or at least I hope you’re asking). Well, being able to influence a company’s employment decisions requires power and, for a long time, most women haven’t had that kind of power in the workplace. So no historical data, buddy.

I Google “nepotism US data” and get nowhere. So I search for “nepotism statistics” instead (nothing), “nepotism study” (nada) and “nepotism prevalence” (zilch).

After a bunch more dead ends I spot that the Census Bureau is quoted in a number of places, so I add that to my search. I end up with this 2014 research paper. It turns out that I was struggling to find data because the Census Bureau doesn’t use the word nepotism. Instead, they titled the paper “Fathers, Children, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Employers.” Interesting.

The study finds that “fathers and sons work together at the same employer more commonly than would be predicted by mere chance”. That chance part is important, not least because when people get caught they might claim it was coincidence rather than corruption.

According to their analysis of data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the Census Bureau found that by the time they’re 30, about 22% of sons will be working for the same employer at the same time as their father (and an extra 6% of sons work for an employer that their dad recently worked for but has since left).

That’s a lot higher than I would have thought, but maybe I had lower expectations of getting help from my dad because I’m a woman. The same study found that only 13% of daughters work at the same place as their dad by the time they’re 30 (and an extra 4% work for a former employer of their dad). Lucky Ivanka, eh?

Step 2:Find out if nepotism is more or less common elsewhere in the world. Yet again, I really struggle here – it’s almost like governments don’t have an interest in publishing data on national nepotism.

I end up finding a pdf floating on the internet. It’s just one page, with no date, no sources, but it seems to be exactly what I need: a table of international data titled “impact of nepotism.” Now I need to figure out where it came from. After getting nowhere for a while, I do something you should try sometime too: I ask for help.

Remember, the results you see on the internet are often different to what someone else will see because search engines take into account things like your location and web history. So I ask my colleague Jan Diehm to try to search for the title of the table too “1.29 impact of nepotism” (please don’t send all your research requests to poor Jan – you could ask anyone to repeat your steps and see if they have more luck than you).

She finds something I didn’t: the table is mentioned in this research paper, along with a note that it comes from the World Economic Forum’s 2006-2007 indicators. That’s all the information she needed to be able to track down the original pdf.

There are a couple of things we should keep in mind if we want to figure out how reliable these numbers are. For one thing, they’re quite old (it doesn’t look like the World Economic Forum still measures nepotism), so things might have changed a lot. When these figures were collected, George W Bush was president and Gmail was only two years old.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this survey doesn’t measure nepotism itself, but rather the perception of nepotism among business executives that were surveyed in 110 countries. That’s not ideal, but it’s understandable given the difficulty of measuring illicit activity accurately.

That said, the list is interesting. It ranks countries on their levels of nepotism from seven (no influence) to one (enormous influence). The US has a score of 4.2, putting it in 63rd place out of 125 countries evaluated, behind Kazakhstan, Egypt and South Africa (to give just a few arbitrary examples) and waaay behind Germany and the UK (to give a few more). The Czech Republic, where Ivanka’s mother was born, received the same score as the United States.

I suggest you peruse the list in full, especially if you’re thinking about setting up an international business.

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