Families and Money

Families and Money Collage

Research Team

Annette Lareau

Annette Lareau

Alexander Adames

Alexander Adames

Ashleigh Cartwright

Ashleigh Cartwright

Katharina Hecht

Katharina Hecht

Study Description

This project examines the ways in which wealthy families give money to charity, family and others. Families across the United States who are in the top one percent of net worth will be interviewed. Since even a modest increase in charitable giving has important implications for the money available for charities in the U.S., this study has the potential to reveal valuable information that is unknown. Many members of this group of families are upwardly mobile, so the study also provides a comparison of the experiences of “old money” and “new money” in a racially diverse sample of wealthy families across the political spectrum in the U.S. This study of 70 wealthy families will also investigate some unique challenges of wealthy families. For example, it will illuminate the worries of older wealthy family members regarding how wealth can be perilous for their children and grandchildren. Overall, the study will help to expand our knowledge about the lives of family members among wealthy Americans who have been rarely studied. This study will provide policy recommendations on ways to increase family members’ charitable giving.

The study uses a snowball sample (in which respondents refer other possible respondents) as well as “cold calls” to recruit members for in-depth (i.e., two to three hour interviews) of persons in 70 families with high net worth. In 50 of these families, in-depth interviews will also be held separately with each spouse and, if possible, the wealth manager who works with the family. Documents about the families will also be collected. Furthermore, for a subsample of eight families, in-depth interviews will be carried out with all available siblings, children, and other extended family members yielding up to 40 interviews per family. In these eight families, participant-observation of events will also be held twice a month for two years of key events including family foundation meetings, charity events, and other family activities. Although some families feel comfortable having their identity revealed, in the vast majority of cases the family identity will be concealed. The subsample will include upwardly-mobile families, including white and African-American families, as well as families with inherited wealth. The study will examine a host of related issues including gender dynamics (and tensions) surrounding wealth and philanthropic giving in families, particularly when the wealth of the wife exceeds that of her husband. In sum, there is insufficient data on the families at the top of the social stratification system. In addition, the studies of stratifications are too much about individuals and not enough about families, yet all signs suggest that the strategies for the intergenerational transmission of wealth often are aimed at preserving the position of an entire family. Wealthy families are very important sources of donations to charities. This study seeks to understand the social processes which shape families as they make these important civic and family decisions. At the end of the study, Professor Lareau will provide a brief report to all of the families who have participated in the study to share what she has learned.