The process by which this happens is known as “the Matthew effect”, a term coined by the sociologist Robert K. Merton in a paper describing the disproportionate share of credit given to already famous scientists when a discovery is simultaneously made. Merton was alluding to the “social law” articulated in The Gospel of Saint Matthew:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. [25:29, KJV]
The effect manifests itself in such phenomena as “cumulative advantage“, “compound interest“, the “multiplier effect“, “information cascades“, and “the madness of crowds“; and appears in phrases as varied as “success begets success” and “virtuous circle” and “the rich get rich and the poor get poorer” and “famous for being famous” and “snowballing”. It was illustrated by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success.
Malcolm Gladwell. 2008. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown.
Robert K. Merton. 1968. The Matthew Effect in Science. Science, 159(3810): 56-63.
Dharmesh Shah. 2010-09-24. Cumulative Advantage: Why You Need a Bias Towards Action. OnStartups