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In sociology, the term ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied by nepotism for people with the same ethnicity within a multi-ethnic society.

The term was coined in the 1960s in the context of the ethnic (tribal) tensions and rivalry in the then-recently independent states in Sub-Saharan Africa such as Nigeria.[1]

Influenced by W.D. Hamilton's theory of kin selection, ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied on the ethnic level.

The term was coined by sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe in reference to the situation in the Belgian Congo.[citation needed]

Sociobiological theory

Template:Off topic The theory views ethnocentrism and racism as nepotism toward extended kin and an extension of kin selection. In other words, ethnic nepotism points toward a biological basis for the phenomenon of people preferring others of the same ethnicity or race; it explains the tendency of humans to favor members of their own racial group by postulating that all animals evolve toward being more altruistic toward kin in order to propagate more copies of their common genes.

"The myth of common descent", proposed by many social scientists as a prominent ethnic marker, is in his view often not a myth at all.

"Ethnicity is defined by common descent and maintained by endogamy".[2]

To guard one's genetic interests, Frank Salter notes altruism toward one's co-ethnics:

Hamilton's 1975 model of a genetic basis for tribal altruism shows that it is theoretically possible to defend ethnic genetic interests in an adaptive manner, even when the altruism entails self sacrifice. He argued mathematically that an act of altruism directed towards the tribe was adaptive if it protected the aggregate of distant relatives in the tribe. In sexually-reproducing species a population's genetic isolation leads to rising levels of interrelatedness of its members and thus makes greater altruism adaptive. Low levels of immigration between tribes allow growing relatedness of tribal members, which in turn permits selection of altruistic acts directed at tribal members, but only if these acts "actually aid in group fitness in some way...." Closely related individuals are less likely to free ride and more likely to invest in and thus strengthen the group as a whole, improving the fitness of its members.[3]

Regarding how this translates into politics and why homogeneous societies are more altruistic, Frank Salter writes:

Relatively homogeneous societies invest more in public goods, indicating a higher level of public altruism. For example, the degree of ethnic homogeneity correlates with the government's share of gross domestic product as well as the average wealth of citizens. Case studies of the United States, Africa and South-East Asia find that multi-ethnic societies are less charitable and less able to cooperate to develop public infrastructure. Moscow beggars receive more gifts from fellow ethnics than from other ethnics. A recent multi-city study of municipal spending on public goods in the United States found that ethnically or racially diverse cities spend a smaller portion of their budgets and less per capita on public services than do the more homogenous cities.[4]

J. Philippe Rushton has complemented kin selection and ethnic nepotism by his genetic similarity theory which proposes that "genetically similar people tend to seek one another out and to provide mutually supportive environments such as marriage, friendship, and social groups. This may represent a biological factor underlying ethnocentrism and group selection".[2] He has also argued that:

[B]ecause fellow ethnics carry copies of the same genes, ethnic consciousness is rooted in the biology of altruism and mutual reciprocity. Thus ethnic nationalism, xenophobia and genocide can become the ‘dark side’ of altruism. Moreover, shared genes can govern the degree to which an ideology is adopted. Some genes will replicate better in some cultures than in others. Religious, political and class conflicts become heated because they affect genetic fitness. Karl Marx did not take his analysis far enough: ideology may be the servant of economic interest, but genes influence both. Since individuals have a greater concentration of genetic interest (inclusive fitness) in their own ethnic group than they do in other ethnic groups, they can be expected to adopt ideas that promote their group over others. Political ethologist Frank Salter refers to ideologies as ‘fitness portfolios’, and psychologist Kevin MacDonald has described co-ethnics as engaging in "group evolutionary strategies."[5]

In Rushton's interpretation it is not clear whether the proposed genetic likeness that supports ethnic nepotism is limited to external appearance, or it also includes other loci.[citation needed] If that is the case, it would be difficult to deduct how similar blood types or creatine levels, or others, among the multitude of invisible phenotype traits, contribute to determine the bonding behavior towards people carrying the alleged similar alleles. Also, there is no clue offered as to which of these specific alleles are the most important for expression of ethnic nepotism. Hamiltonian kin selection (in itself very controversial) refers exclusively to defined sets of discrete behaviors that are innate, not learned[6] and increase the reproductive fitness among very close kin, whereas ethnic nepotism would appear to depend heavily on social interactions and on social constructs.[citation needed]

According to research by Van der Dennen, "ethnocentrism-cum-xenophobia" seems universally present in preindustrial societies (and in many primate and social carnivore species).[2]

Tatu Vanhanen in his 1999 book Ethnic Conflicts Explained by Ethnic Nepotism empirically examined the relationships between the degree of ethnic homogeneity, the degree of ethnic conflicts, and the degree of democratization in the nations of the world. He found that more ethnically heterogeneous nations had more ethnic conflicts. The degree of democratization explained very little of the degree of ethnic conflicts except that very authoritarian states such as the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia could suppress ethnic conflicts. Ethnic conflicts were only slightly less common in more economically developed countries. They appeared within all racial groups, cultures, and geographical regions. In Vanhanen's view, people have a genetic tendency to easily learn ethnic attitudes and psychological mechanisms leading to prejudice, scapegoating, and discrimination.

See also


  1. see e.g. The Journal of modern African studies 7 (1969), p. 23 in reference to "ethnic nepotism" among the Mbaise in Nigeria; Audrey C. Smock, Ibo politics: the role of ethnic unions in Eastern Nigeria, Harvard University Press, 1971.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Book review of Vanhanen “Ethnic Conflicts”, Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Human Ethology Bulletin, 15, 3, 2000, pp. 12-14.
  3. Salter, Frank, On Genetic Interests, pg.125.
  4. Salter, Frank, On Genetic Interests, pg.146.
  5. Rushton, J. Philipe, "Ethnic Nationalism, evolutionary psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory," Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 11, Oct. 2005.
  6. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Further reading

External links

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