Life history theory predicts that mothers should provide their offspring with a privileged upbringing if this enhances their offspring's and their own fitness. In many mammals, high-ranking mothers provide their offspring with a privileged upbringing. Whether dispersing sons gain fitness benefits during adulthood from such privileges (a 'silver spoon' effect) has rarely been examined. In this paper, we show that in the complex, female-dominated society of spotted hyaenas, high-born sons grew at higher rates, were more likely to disperse to clans offering the best fitness prospects, started reproducing earlier and had a higher reproductive value than did lower-born sons. This illustrates the evolutionary importance of maternal effects even in societies in which male size or fighting ability does not influence fitness. By demonstrating for the first time in a non-human mammal that maternal status influences immigration patterns, the study also advances our understanding of two key ecological and evolutionary processes, dispersal and habitat selection.