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Genera by their very nature are expected to be monotypic and geographically and environmentally restricted at their origin, and most genera do not endure past their stage of first appearance. At the same time, those genera that do endure have a capacity to expand greatly in geographic range, environmental breadth, and species richness. Here we ask what it is that allows some genera and not others to survive past their inception. Using occurrence data from the Paleobiology Database, we find that initial geographic range has the strongest effect on survival, followed by environmental breadth, with the effect of species richness weaker on average. The effect of geographic range is strongest if measured as the distances spanned by the occurrences of a genus rather than the number of distinct areas in which a genus lives. We document substantial secular variation in selectivity of early survival. The most striking aspect of this variation is that survival is only weakly selective among genera that first appear during the Mesozoic. By following genera beyond their stage of first appearance, we find that selectivity with respect to all factors becomes systematically stronger as cohorts age and genera become more differentiated in range, breadth, and richness. This may help account for a previously identified statistical effect of genus age on the chances of survival.