Nepotism is generally defined as preference given to a relative by a person in a position of power in an organization. Nepotistic preferences are most often defined in terms of hiring decisions but may also be manifest in evaluations, pay decisions, and other personnel decisions. Anthropological theory and historical evidence suggest that hiring decisions are heavily influenced by preferences given to one’s relations. When compared with a standard of merit, this form of nepotism is typically viewed as unfair and unethical and is often prohibited by organizational rules and governmental laws.
From a psychological perspective, this traditional definition of nepotism is framed first as a hiring decision on the part of a manager or supervisor and then as an acceptance or rejection decision on the part of the person presumably receiving the unfair benefit of nepotistic hiring. No published measures have been developed for nepotism; however, it may be that the usual indicators of nepotism (generations of family working in the same workplace or occupation, family ties in business and government, married people in the chain of command within an organization) are not always the result of such a top-down decision. Recent research suggests that career choices based on offspring or spousal preferences for occupations may lead to the appearance of nepotism, even though the offspring or spouse may in fact be a meritorious candidate. Moreover, the choice to enter an occupation may be opportunistic from the career choice perspective. Researchers have referred to this career choice and opportunistic nepotism as “new” nepotism.
There are also arguments that antinepotism laws may have a disproportionate negative impact on women, who are less likely to be in positions of power and therefore more likely to be excluded from jobs than their male counterparts. Research to date has not supported this argument, but the paucity of research and theory in this area leaves this and other questions open.
- Bellow, A. 2003. In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History. New York: Doubleday.
- Chandler, T., Gely, R., Howard, J. and Cheramie, R. 2002. “Spouses Need Not Apply: The Legality of Anti-nepotism and No-spouse Rules.” San Diego Law Review 39.
- Simon, R. J., Clark, S. M. and Tifft, L. L. 1966. “Of Nepotism, Marriage, and the Pursuit of an Academic Career.” Sociology of Education 39:344-358.
- Wenneras, C. and Wold, A. 1997. “Nepotism and Sexism in Peer Review.” Nature 387:341-343.