DP15159 Nepotism vs. Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital in Academia (1088--1800)

Author(s): David de la Croix, Marc Goñi
Publication Date: August 2020
Keyword(s): human capital transmission, intergenerational mobility, Nepotism, pre-industrial Europe, university scholars, Upper-Tail Human Capital
JEL(s): C31, E24, J1
Programme Areas: Economic History, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15159

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.