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A Strange Study on Italian Nepotism


These are dark days for Italy. The country’s bond yields are way up; Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks to be on his way out. And Italian soccer superstar Antonio Cassano is in the hospital recovering from a suspected stroke.

What better time then to blog about a strange new study about Italian nepotism? Authors Ruben Durante, Giovanna Labartino and Roberto Perotti study the effects that a 1998 law decentralizing the hiring process at Italian universities had on levels of nepotism. Pre-1998, candidates for academic positions were selected through a national process. After 1998, however, universities were given the power to hire their own professors. The researchers found that this decentralization led to increased nepotism in areas of “low civic capital,” but not in areas of “high civic capital.”  From the abstract:

Decentralization can lead to “good” or “bad” outcomes depending on the socio-cultural norms of the targeted communities. We investigate this issue by looking at the evolution of familism and nepotism in the Italian academia before and after the 1998 reform…

By far the most interesting part of this study is the researchers’ treatment of the term “civic capital,” something they define loosely, yet measure very narrowly. Their definition of a region with high civic capital is “an area where citizens are generally more politically involved and better informed,” and where individuals are “prone to internalize the social costs of their actions and the public is equally more likely to monitor the conduct of public officials.”

How do they measure such behavior? By just two things: the size of non-sport newspaper readership, and the rates of blood donation. So, what they’re essentially saying is that reading the news (outside of the sports page) and donating blood are strong indicators of one’s high civic capital. It’s certainly an interesting way of measuring a pretty vague concept. But surely there must be a more robust method. What about rates of voting? Or crime maybe?

Go ahead readers, how would you measure a region’s civic capital?