Over two-thirds of Gen Z are ‘nepo workers’—and men are more likely to benefit from nepotism, study shows

Young businessman in black jacket and yellow t-shirt heading to work with headphones. With agenda and a coffee take away outside the office
Shockingly, 14% of Gen Z nepo workers are in “senior management” roles.
Iparraguirre Recio—Getty Images

Hailey Bieber, Brooklyn Beckham, and Maude Apatow have one thing in common: They’re part of Hollywood’s growing “nepo baby” boom.

Many members of the up-and-coming generation of stars have had a helping hand in the form of famous parents. And on TikTok, the hashtag #nepotismbabies has garnered over 370 million views as users expose actors and singers they didn’t know were children of celebrities—and who, in their eyes, don’t deserve acclaim. 

Most recently, Kaia Gerber, daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford, came under fire on the platform for saying that the whole nepotism conversation is overblown—despite admitting that through her mom she’s “met amazing people” that she now works with.

But people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Although Gen Z arguably makes up the largest demographic of people calling out nepotism, research shows they’re also most likely to be benefiting from the practice, which has crept its way into workplaces. 

According to research commissioned by the self-described ethical hiring experts Applied, 75% of Gen Z who think nepotism is “unfair” would use it to advance their careers anyway, versus just 33% of over-55s who think it’s “unfair.”

Nepo workers: Meritocracy is dead 

Applied’s survey of 2,000 workers found that while 42% of workers overall have gained a job (or a job offer) through nepotism, this figure rises to 68% when it comes to Gen Z workers. In comparison, only a quarter of over-55-year-olds admitted to having gained work through who they know. 

Of the Gen Z workers who have benefited from nepotism, 24% were unemployed beforehand and almost half entered into an entry or junior role. 

Working in junior roles would be expected for any Gen Zer—the eldest of the generation is some 24 to 26 years old—but nepotism has offered advantages beyond getting entry-level jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have. Some Gen Z workers are leveraging their personal connections to nab job titles that take the average workers decades to earn.

Despite only recently entering the workforce, the research shows that 37% of Gen Z nepo workers have bagged “middle-management” positions and 14% are in “senior management” roles.

In further evidence that meritocracy is not well, men are 33% more likely to benefit from nepotism than women. The research shows that almost half (48%) of men have leveraged who they know for employment gains, compared to just over a third (36%) of women. 

So while nepotism is helping some workers, namely young men, unlock success, it’s leaving behind those who lack friends in high places—and could be widening the gender gap.

Why nepo workers are becoming more prevalent—and what business should do

“It’s unsurprising that younger workers are more likely to resort to nepotism,” says Khyati Sundaram, Applied’s CEO, who suggests that the reason Gen Z is looking out of the box (or rather, outside of regular job application routes) comes down to unrealistic expectations from employers. 

“‘Entry-level’ roles are increasingly requiring candidates—who are likely to be new to the workforce—to have a number of years of prior relevant work experience,” she adds.

When young workers can’t get work experience without prior work experience, it makes sense for them to turn to personal connections for a foot in the door. 

But nepotism that is rooted in privilege “only offers a foot in the door for some,” says Sundaram—who insists that’s exactly why it has no place in business. “It’s up to companies to create a level playing field for all candidates and guard against the potential for nepotism to have a bigger bearing on who gets what job than demonstrable skills.”

For a start, businesses should revamp their hiring processes and stop focusing on work experience.

Sundaram suggests hiring managers advertise all roles externally (and to diverse talent pools), anonymize applications, and structure interviews to prevent personal connections from influencing hiring decisions. 

Meanwhile, by making the focus on job ads around relevant skills rather than previous experience, “companies can ensure all candidates get a fair chance—regardless of who they know,” she adds.

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