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Last name analysis of mobility, gender imbalance, and nepotism across academic systems

  1. Stefano Allesinaa,b,c,1,2
  1. aDepartment of Ecology & Evolution, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637;
  2. bComputation Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637;
  3. cNorthwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208
  1. Edited by Kenneth W. Wachter, University of California, Berkeley, CA, and approved June 1, 2017 (received for review March 1, 2017)

Significance

In the age of Big Data and high-throughput sequencing, a list of names might seem like a meager source of data. However, here we show that, by analyzing last name distributions, one can highlight distinctive patterns in academic systems around the world. By collecting data on academics in Italy, France, and the United States, we show that, in the Italian system, professors tend to work in their native region, whereas the US system is geographically well-mixed. We can detect the effect of field-specific immigration in the United States and highlight patterns of gender imbalance in the sciences. Finally, we show that, in Italy, the plague of nepotism—professors hiring their relatives—is slowly declining.

Abstract

In biology, last names have been used as proxy for genetic relatedness in pioneering studies of neutral theory and human migrations. More recently, analyzing the last name distribution of Italian academics has raised the suspicion of nepotism, with faculty hiring their relatives for academic posts. Here, we analyze three large datasets containing the last names of all academics in Italy, researchers from France, and those working at top public institutions in the United States. Through simple randomizations, we show that the US academic system is geographically well-mixed, whereas Italian academics tend to work in their native region. By contrasting maiden and married names, we can detect academic couples in France. Finally, we detect the signature of nepotism in the Italian system, with a declining trend. The claim that our tests detect nepotism as opposed to other effects is supported by the fact that we obtain different results for the researchers hired after 2010, when an antinepotism law was in effect.

Footnotes

  • ?1J.G. and S.A. contributed equally to this work.

  • ?2To who correspondence should be addressed. Email: sallesina{at}uchicago.edu.

Online Impact

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