Measuring nepotism through shared last names: the case of Italian Academia

PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e21160. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021160. Epub 2011 Aug 3.


Nepotistic practices are detrimental for academia. Here I show how disciplines with a high likelihood of nepotism can be detected using standard statistical techniques based on shared last names among professors. As an example, I analyze the set of all 61,340 Italian academics. I find that nepotism is prominent in Italy, with particular disciplinary sectors being detected as especially problematic. Out of 28 disciplines, 9 - accounting for more than half of Italian professors - display a significant paucity of last names. Moreover, in most disciplines a clear north-south trend emerges, with likelihood of nepotism increasing with latitude. Even accounting for the geographic clustering of last names, I find that for many disciplines the probability of name-sharing is boosted when professors work in the same institution or sub-discipline. Using these techniques policy makers can target cuts and funding in order to promote fair practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes / ethics*
  • Family*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Personnel Selection / ethics