Nepotism is based on favour granted to relatives in various fields, including business, politics, entertainment, sports, religion and other activities. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishops. Trading parliamentary employment for favors is a modern-day example of nepotism. Criticism of nepotism, however, can be found in ancient Indian texts such as the Kural literature.
The term comes from the Italian word nepotismo, which is based on the Latin word 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 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:
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.