The Fortunate Son’s Secret to Success
Acton Institute Powerblog

The Fortunate Son’s Secret to Success

nepotismIt ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no
“Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

What do Al Gore, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Barry Bonds, Peyton and Eli Manning, Aage Bohrs, and Michael Douglas all have in common? Each of them reached the same level of success as their fathers in a highly competitive field.

We like to think that the U.S. is a meritocracy, a nation where—with gumption and grit—you can rise to the level of your talent. But as history has shown, you can rise much faster and much higher if you can stand on your successful daddy’s shoulders.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz used the methods of data science to determine the odd that a male Baby Boomer would succeed in various competitive areas. His findings are that if the father reached the achievement first, then the son is:

  • 800 times more likely to become an NBA player
  • 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award
  • 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy
  • 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize
  • 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.
  • 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general
  • 6,000 times more likely to become a governor
  • 8,500 times more likely to become a U.S. Senator
  • 9,300 times more likely to become a reality TV star
  • 28,000 times more likely to become a billionaire
  • 1.4 million times more likely to become president

Not surprisingly, politics is the field in which nepotism thrives. “There is some evidence that the parental advantage in politics is actually getting bigger,” says Stephens-Davidowitz. “George W. Bush ended a 171-year drought for presidential sons. From 2003 to 2006, the Senate had the highest percentage of senators’ children — six — in its history.”

These stats on nepotism provide an important lesson for today’s youth: If you want to be successful, find a way to be born to successful parents.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).