The term comes from Italian word nepotismo, which is based on Latin root nepos meaning nephew. Since the Middle Ages and until the late 17th century, some Catholic popes and bishops, who had taken vows of chastity, and therefore usually had no legitimate offspring of their own, gave their nephews such positions of preference as were often accorded by fathers to son.
Several popes elevated nephews and other relatives to the cardinalate. Often, such appointments were a means of continuing a papal "dynasty". For instance, Pope Callixtus III, head 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. Alexander then elevated Alessandro Farnese, his mistress's brother, to cardinal; Farnese would later go on to become Pope Paul III.
Paul III also engaged in nepotism, appointing, for instance, two nephews, aged 14 and 16, as cardinals. The practice was finally limited when Pope Innocent XII issued the bull Romanum decet Pontificem, 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. The British English expression "Bob's your uncle" is thought to have originated when Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, promoted his nephew, Arthur Balfour, to the esteemed post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, which was widely seen as an act of nepotism.
Nepotism can also occur within organizations, when a person is employed due to their familial ties. It is generally seen as unethical, both on the part of the employer and employee.
Nepotism at work can mean increased opportunity at a job, attaining the job or being paid more than other similarly situated people. Arguments are made both for and against employment granted due to a family connection, which is most common in small, family run businesses. On one hand, nepotism can provide stability and continuity. Critics cite studies that demonstrate decreased morale and commitment from non-related employees, and a generally negative attitude towards superior positions filled through nepotism. An article from Forbes magazine stated "there is no ladder to climb when the top rung is reserved for people with a certain name." Some businesses forbid nepotism as an ethical matter, considering it too troublesome and disruptive.
Outside of national politics, accusations of "nepotism" are made in instances of prima facie favoritism to relatives, in such cases as:Peaches Geldof's role as magazine editor in an MTV reality show – produced by a company owned by her father Bob Geldof.
Tori Spelling's breakout role on Beverly Hills 90210 as a result of her father Aaron Spelling's involvement with the show.
Hollywood's Coppola family includes many distinguished filmmakers and actors. The careers of Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Cage, and Jason Schwartzman have been attributed to aid by director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast his daughter Sofia in The Godfather Part III. Cage changed his last name in order to distance himself from such charges.
Anna Bligh, who won the 2009 Queensland State election, has been accused of nepotism by giving her husband Greg Withers a position as the Office of Climate Change head.
Shortly after his appointment as the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, Peter Jensen was accused, in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview, of nepotism after nominating his brother Phillip Jensen as Dean of Sydney and appointing his wife Christine Jensen to an official position in the Sydney diocese.
Over the past decade, criticism has been growing over the creation of political dynasties in Belgium, in which all of the traditional political parties have been involved. This phenomenon has been explained by the fact that prominent party members control the ranking of candidates on party lists for elections and a candidate's place on a list determines whether or not he or she is elected. Another justification for the phenomenon is the importance of name recognition for collecting votes.
Claims of nepotism have been made against Bruno Tobback, the son of senator and former minister Louis Tobback, a member of the Flemish socialists, became the Belgian federal government's minister for the pensions and environment at 35 in 2005. Alexander De Croo, the son of former speaker of the Belgian parliament Herman De Croo, ran for the leadership of his father's party Open VLD at age 33. Finally there is the example of Maya Detiège, the daughter of former mayor of the city of Antwerp Leona Detiège, who herself is the daughter of the former mayor of Antwerp Frans Detiège. Among other examples are former minister Freya Vandenbossche and senator Jean Jacques De Gucht, being the daughter and son of respectively former minister Luc Vandenbossche and former minister Karel De Gucht.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior members of Parliament, are also known for their hand in getting family members into government positions. In the 2013 Cambodian parliamentary elections, at least eight candidates standing in the upcoming July election are sons of high-ranking Cambodian People’s Party officials. All ruling party sons lost, but were appointed into high government positions.
For the past 3,000 years, nepotism has been common in China's clan and extended family based culture. Confucius wrote about the importance of balancing "filial piety with merit". The clan-based feudal system collapsed during Confucius' lifetime, yet nepotism has continued through the modern age. For instance, Zhang Hui, was believed to have his career "expedited" through the intervention of his uncle, Li Jianguo, Vice Chairman and Secretary General of the National People’s Congress. Hui was made the youngest member and secretary of Jining's Municipal Standing Committee at the age of 32.
In October 2009, Jean Sarkozy, the second son of then President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy, was poised to become the director of the major EPAD authority despite lacking any higher education degree and professional experience. In 2008 he was voted regional councillor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the town of which his father had previously been mayor.
In September 2009, Rap producer Pierre Sarkozy, the first son of then President Nicolas Sarkozy, asked SCPP for a financial contribution of around €10000 towards an €80000 artistic project. Because he was not a SCPP member, the request was automatically rejected. Pierre Sarkozy then went to the Élysée which led to an Élysée aide contacting the SCPP, and SCPP president Marc Guez assuring the issue would soon be favorably resolved. According to Abeille Music president and SCPP member Yves Riesel, however, this would not happen as SCPP's financial help has been restricted to members only for months.
Corruption goes hand in hand with nepotism in India. It goes on in government and private jobs both. Nepotism is common in politics, business and in the movie industry. It goes on even in religious circles, arts, industry, and other types of organizations. Many members of parliament and the Legislative Assembly have a generations-long legacy of nepotic allocation of constituencies to their relatives. The Bajaj family is related to the Birla family which itself is related to the Biyani family by marriage. The Kapoor families, and many other Indian movie actors have brought their children into the movie industry with their endorsements. Moreover, dynasty in politics remains. Rahul Gandhi, Vice-President of the Indian National Congress party, is a descendent of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi & Rajiv Gandhi. Cricket is also affected with nepotism in the form of Stuart Binny and Rohan Gavaskar.
Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's family members "dominated" the country for decades. Elena Băsescu, the daughter of President Traian Băsescu, was elected in 2009 to the European Parliament, despite the fact that she had no significant professional or political experience.
Singapore's government has been the target of numerous charges of nepotism, with several members of the Prime Minister's family holding high posts. The family members dispute the charges as they arise.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs, son of Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1980 to 2001, has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2001, and his daughter, Maria Teresa Samaranch Salisachs, has been president of the Spanish Federation of Sports on Ice since 2005.
Nepotism occurred in Spanish Colonial America when offices were given to family members.
Former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been accused of nepotism, appointing three brothers to run important ministries and giving out other political positions to relatives, regardless of their merit. During his presidency, the Rajapaksa family held the ministries of finance, defence, ports and aviation, and highways and road development. The president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was given the post of Defence Secretary. He also controlled the armed forces, the police and the Coast Guard, and was responsible for immigration and emigration. Rajapaksa appointed his brother Basil Rajapaksa as minister of Economic Development. Together, the Rajapaksa brothers controlled over 70% of Sri Lanka's public budget. Mahinda Rajapaksa's eldest brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, was appointed as the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and has held many other posts before, while his eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa, is also a member of the parliament and holds undisclosed portfolios.
Others include: his nephew, Shashindra Rajapaksa, who is the former Chief minister of Uva; one of his cousins, former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya; and another cousin, Udayanga Weeratunga, who is the former ambassador to Russia. Dozens of nephews, nieces, cousins, and in-laws have also been appointed as heads of banks, boards, and corporations.
In February 2010, Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that more than 200 MPs used Parliamentary allowances to employ their own relatives in a variety of office roles. He suggested that the practice should be banned.
In 2005, Councillor Ann Reid of York arranged for all nine sets of traffic lights on her daughter Hannah's wedding route through York to be switched to green for the five-car convoy. As a result, the wedding party took only 10 minutes to pass through the city.
North Yorkshire Police's Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell was disciplined by the IPCC in 2011, but refused to resign, after admitting that he assisted a relative through the first stages of a recruitment process.
Many Northern Irish politicians employ family members. In 2008, 19 elected politicians of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) directly employed family members and relatives constituted 27 of its 136 staff.
Around 30 family members or relatives of President Ulysses S. Grant prospered financially in some way from either government appointments or employment.
John F. Kennedy made his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General.
In December 2012, a report from the Washington Post indicated various nepotism practices from the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia's Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), including one family with five members working for the MWAA. One of the reasons given by the associate general counsel to defend the alleged nepotism was “if [the employees are] qualified and competed for [the positions] on their own, I don’t see a problem with relatives working in the same organization.” The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Congress pressured the MWAA to resolve practices of nepotism. Authority employees are no longer allowed to directly or indirectly influence hiring or promotion of relatives, as documented in their ethics policy.
Nepotism is also practiced in the NBA, as Philadelphia 76ers chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo named his son Bryan Colangelo his general manager without a thorough search for the position.
On 9 January 2017, then-president-elect Donald Trump appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser to the president, raising both ethical questions and legal questions about whether this appointment will conflict with a 1967 federal anti-nepotism law.
Nepotism is known to be practiced by President of the Venezuela National Assembly, Cilia Flores. Nine positions in the National Assembly were filled by Flores' family members, including a mother-in-law, aunt, 3 siblings, a cousin and her mother, and 2 nephews.
President Robert Mugabe is reported to be preparing his wife Grace Mugabe to be the next president of Zimbabwe once he steps down. Vice President Joice Mujuru was previously considered to be the favored successor to Mugabe.
Nepotism refers to partiality to family whereas cronyism refers to partiality to an associate or friend. Favoritism, the broadest of the terms, refers to partiality based upon being part of a favored group, rather than job performance.