Inherited Influence and Celebrity Offspring

Stormi Webster is about three months old. Right now, she’s probably somewhere in Calabasas fine tuning her motor skills, learning to lift her head, and maybe even starting to roll over like most babies her age. But unlike her peers, she could be a millionaire by her first birthday. And there’s no feeling of inadequacy like when your prospects are outstripped by someone who can’t eat solid food.

The ickiness of speculating about an infant’s net worth and future sponsorship deals got me thinking about the inheritance of fame and influence. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that over the past 10 years the Kardashian-Jenner family has become an absolute powerhouse. So, it’s not that crazy to assume their pop-cultural domination would extend to the next generation.

But inherited fame isn’t just hypothetical.

Second-generation modelsmusicians, and actors have been dominating their respective industries for decades now. Outside of art and entertainment, you have political families like the Kennedy’s and Bush’s, and even sports dynasties like the Manning’s. Inherited fame and influence aren’t groundbreaking concepts, but they can be defining forces in our culture and government — so it’s worth giving them a closer look.

First off, “job-inheritance” doesn’t only occur in high-profile professions. The children of dentists and factory workers are also likely to follow in their parents footsteps. According to recent census data, 13 percent of women and 22 percent of men have worked in the same workplace as their fathers. The New York Times even created an interactive tool which reads out the likelihood of job inheritance by profession. While this might seem like an interesting but somewhat innocuous correlation, there are important sociological implications.

When career path bridges generations, so too does tax bracket and class status. But what about when a child inherits not only a profession but exclusive industry connections, name recognition, and maybe even a couple million to get the ball rolling?

This is where we start to cross over into inherited-influence.

Inherited influence is a kind of privilege. It’s not good or bad — it’s just an inherent, unearned advantage. The privilege of inherited influence isn’t always abused. Every public figure with famous parents isn’t a horrible person or a talentless fraud. But privilege can also manifest as entitlement.

Worse case scenario, this sense of entitlement can produce an overconfident individual, accustomed to attention and his own way in the boardroom and, allegedly, in more intimate interactions. On coming of age, his father might have given him a little something to start off — say $14 million or so — some of which he might have squandered in a series of bankruptcies. But despite his ineptitude in the family profession, he nevertheless manages to scrap together a name for himself as a master deal-maker. Emboldened by the popularity of his television show and undeterred by his lack of political experience, he decides to run for president!

Sound like anyone we know?

I digress, but not entirely without reason. This example highlights another pitfall of inherited influence — “regression to the mean.” Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “Regression to the mean limits family dominance in any meritocratic field. If you have a well-above-average dose of a trait, you can expect your child to be closer to average. Regression to the mean is so powerful that once-in-a-generation talent basically never sires once-in-a-generation talent.”

In some ways, it’s sort of an intuitive point. If someone truly is exceptionally talented, it’s highly improbable that their child would be equally so. Not to disregard instances in which the child surpasses a parent’s success (here’s lookin’ at you Billy Ray), but it’s interesting to consider Trump somewhat of a cautionary tale in the consequences of inherited influence — a tale that’s continuing through at least one more generation.

I’m starting to feel bad for dragging Baby Stormi into all this. For all I know, she’s one of the good ones. It’s not fair for the weight of the Trump family saga to rest on her tiny shoulders. But the worlds of celebrity and politics are seemingly closer than ever. For all we know, the intersection of celebrity and politics could be a site of productive change. And I really hope so.

Because if 2016 was any indication, a 2054 Stormi Webster campaign wouldn’t be too far-fetched.

Clara Malley is an Editorial and Community Intern for The Fullest based in NYC. Find her at @claramalley on Instagram or say hi at clara@thefullest.com.

Comment