Towards the end of 2022, the concept of the “nepo-baby” jumped from the internet world to the mainstream following a series of articles in the New York Magazine about the neposphere, a universe inhabited by nepo-babies.

Nepo-babies are the children of the already rich and famous who become rich and famous because of their connections. In a world of celebrity, often claimed to be founded on the notion of unique individual talent, the emergence of a generation of nepo-babies undermines one of the central claims of the entertainment business which is that it is a meritocracy.

Whether celebrities spawn celebrities is hardly the stuff that should keep us up at night. Indeed in Ireland the same process is widespread whereby “family trades” are passed on. Journalists regularly reproduce journalists. We know Irish political dynasties are hereditary, while children of gardaí often become gardaí.

Even in the allegedly meritocratic public service, civil servants breed other civil servants. Years ago, while presenting a show on RTÉ, I was struck by what were termed “RTÉ families”, the daughters and sons of people who had worked there before. Why should Hollywood be any different?

Nepotism and inheritance have been with us as long as the family has been a central unit of human society. Dilemmas about fairness, birthrights and heirlooms have dogged democracies from the beginning.

Plato, in his original writings on citizenship in Republic, sought to ban inheritance and nepotism as a way of making the Greek Republic more equal for all its citizens. Acknowledging that blood is thicker than water, even the great sage of Athens, after urging an end to inheritance, added the caveat “provided it can be done”.

Families and dynasties endure because the family unit is often the strongest human organisation, stronger than the State. We are fascinated by its dynamics -the recent TV blockbuster, Succession, attests to our captivation.

As it was in Plato’s day, the conflict between succession and equality remain central to our democracy and today in Ireland it’s playing out in our housing market, where a new type of nepo-baby, the Nepo-Baby Buyer (or NBB for short), is dominating.

The NBB is the first-time buyer financed by wealthy parents. As prices go ever higher, few first-time buyers can hope to get the deposit together to be entertained for a loan. They are being priced out of the market by the children of wealthy parents who are giving their offspring a leg up.

The median price of a home in Ireland was €280,000 in 2021. CSO figures (2021) show that 45 per cent of first-time buyers aged 25-34 received financial assistance from their family in 2021. A survey conducted by Bank of Ireland found that around 32 per cent of first-time buyers received financial help from their parents in 2022.

This assistance often involves down payments or the cosigning of mortgages, enabling the children to overcome financial barriers. According to data from the Banking and Payments Federation (BPFI), 42 per cent of new home purchasers used a parental gift toward their deposit.

No matter which way you look at it, the NBBs now constitute about half of the market for 25-34s. The housing market has been constructed, by way of various tax incentives, to be the way most Irish people accumulate wealth.

The implication for the 60 per cent of young people who do not have wealthy parents is obvious. They are shut out of the one asset that, rightly or wrongly, Irish people believe gives a stake in society and a wealth base to build upon. We can argue the rights and wrongs of this, but it is an essential financial fact in Ireland.

What’s more, the impact of inheritance on the prospects of young Irish citizens is becoming more pronounced. It’s a vicious cycle. Higher house prices beget more wealth, which in turn shut out more people but enrich those who can turn to Daddy and Mummy.

According to the CSO, the net wealth of households headed by those aged 55 and older increased by 15.7 per cent from 2013 to 2019, to an average of €738,000 in 2019. Such wealth perpetuates housing inequality, as those without parental financial backing struggle to compete.

An ESRI report noted that households receiving parental assistance were 2.5 times more likely to be able to afford a home than those without such support and with the top 20 per cent of income earners owning 40 per cent of the country’s total housing wealth, wealth is hyper-concentrated. The result is a two-tier housing system, with the NBBs pulling away from the rest, by simply doing nothing.

For those left trailing behind, renting becomes the only option, driving up rents. But that’s not all – even in the rental sector, 41 per cent of renters rely on parental support to afford their rent (Daft.ie, 2023). Rich parents are not just distorting the buyer’s market, but the rental market as well.

It doesn’t stop there.

Inherited wealth accounted for approximately 20 per cent of the total wealth of Irish households in 2021 and one in four who inherited property used it as collateral for their first home (CSO, 2023).

The implication of this for Irish society is enormous. One of the remarkable aspects of the past four decades has been the increase in wealth of the country. For the first time in two centuries, Irish people were manifestly richer than their parents and grandparents. The housing market played a significant, but not exclusive, role in this process.

The social contract embedded itself along the lines of you do the right thing, work hard and you will move up socially. This has now come to a grinding halt. While earned income is rising, it does not match inherited wealth, meaning that social mobility goes into reverse.

But it’s not just social mobility that regresses, all mobility does. In Ireland today, 33 per cent of young adults live with their parents. In Denmark the corresponding figure is 8 per cent. .

These young Irish people are stuck with their parents, seeing the wealthy and their nepo-babies elbowing them out of the housing and rental market, while getting richer in the process. Online in the box room, unable to launch into an independent adult life, is it any wonder they want radical change?

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