Nepotism is the practice of bestowing favors and benefits on relatives without regard to merit.

What is Nepotism?

Nepotism has been practiced by people in power for centuries, but most people engage in nepotism at some time or another. People generally want to help their loved ones, and when given an opportunity to do so, they will often show favoritism to relatives. A president who appoints his or her son as secretary of defense, a corporate CEO who makes his or her daughter a vice president, and a doctor who employs a cousin in his orĀ  her front office are all engaging in nepotism. Less direct forms of nepotism that many people engage in include offering job recommendations and leads to relatives and employing children.

Some systems institutionalize nepotism. For example, many monarchies require that one must be a direct descendant of the king or queen to become the country’s leader. Some colleges and universities give preference to children of alumni–a form of nepotism.

Nepotism in Popular Culture

President Ulysses S. Grant employed as many as 30 of his family members, and politicians and leaders frequently offer jobs to friends and family. Nepotism can be a harmful practice when it causes otherwise unqualified people to be promoted to positions of power, but nepotism can also serve as an incentive for family members to support one another. While extreme cases of nepotism can be harmful, more mundane instances of nepotism can be unavoidable; most people want to see their loved ones succeed, and the impulse to help close relatives might even be a by-product of evolution.

Nepotism is similar to, but distinct from, cronyism. Cronyism is the practice of showing favoritism to close associates, while nepotism is strictly limited to family members. Politicians in the United States are frequently criticized for engaging in cronyism.


  1. Bellow, A. (n.d.). In praise of nepotism. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  2. Salinger, L. M. (2005). Encyclopedia of white-collar & corporate crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Last Updated: 08-12-2015

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