University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Sean McQuade



Undergraduate Research Award


Sean McQuade is an undergraduate Economics major in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. Under the mentorship of Professor Kevin Young, his current research is focused on the behavior of powerful corporate actors and the intergenerational transmission of economic elites. His honors thesis examines familial ties among executives in large US corporations.


Nepotism runs rampant in the executive suites of corporate America. Despite the Security
and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) requirement that such cases be reported in shareholder
filings, there has yet to be a systematic analysis of the frequency by which nepotism occurs in
America’s largest public companies. Further, there are no examinations of how the background
of executives who benefit from nepotism are different than those who do not. My research aims
to fill this gap by answering how often companies in the S&P 500 index report familial ties in
their SEC filings, and whether the backgrounds of executives who benefit from these ties are
systematically different than those who do not.

I compile data from the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering and Retrieval (EDGAR) system
to identify executives who hold familial ties to at least one executive at the same firm. Using
these data, I determine the extent to which a familial tie allows one to ‘cover lost ground’ in the
path to a position as a high-ranking corporate executive. This is a comparative study that assesses the differences in backgrounds between corporate executives who have and have not benefitted from nepotistic relationships. Using career background websites such as LinkedIn, Wikipedia, and Crunchbase, I construct an index that measures the ‘preparedness’ of an individual for an executive role.

Corporate elites possess staggering amounts of influence over many important functions
of American society. They influence elections, policy decisions, and set the agendas for the
largest firms in the world. It is thus necessary to understand the mechanisms that condition who
gains access to this powerful group. This project examines this question from the unique angle of
family research. It provides insight into how elite families sustain their wealth and influence across generations, and why non-elite families struggle to progress into society’s uppermost

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