Nepotism vs. Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital in Academia (1088--1800)

80 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020

See all articles by David de la Croix

David de la Croix

IRES, Universit Catholique de Louvain

Marc Goñi

University of Vienna

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 2020


We argue that the waning of nepotism in academia bolstered scientific production in pre-industrial Europe. We build a database of families of scholars (1088-1800), measure their scientific output, and develop a general method to disentangle nepotism from inherited human capital -two determinants of occupational persistence. This requires jointly addressing measurement error in human capital proxies and sample selection bias arising from nepotism. Our method exploits multi-generation correlations together with parent-child distributional differences to identify the structural parameters of a first-order Markov process of human capital transmission with nepotism. We find an intergenerational human capital elasticity of 0.59, higher than that suggested by parent-child elasticities, yet lower than multi-generation estimates ignoring nepotism. On average, 16 percent of scholars' sons achieved their position because of nepotism. Nepotism was lower in science than in law and in Protestant than in Catholic institutions, and declined during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment---two periods of buoyant scientific advancement.

Keywords: human capital transmission, intergenerational mobility, Nepotism, pre-industrial Europe, university scholars, Upper-Tail Human Capital

JEL Classification: C31, E24, J1

Suggested Citation

de la Croix, David and Goñi, Marc, Nepotism vs. Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital in Academia (1088--1800) (August 2020). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP15159, Available at SSRN:

David De la Croix (Contact Author)

IRES, Universit Catholique de Louvain ( email )


Marc Goñi

University of Vienna ( email )

Oskar Morgenstern Platz 1
Vienna, Vienna 1090

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