Annette Lareau, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a sociologist who studies families and is currently interviewing people of high net worth and people who work with them. The purpose of the study is to learn how people manage the challenges they face around the wealth. She also wants to understand more about how people think about philanthropy as well as to understand how money helps bring family members together or pulls them apart. So far, she has done face-to-face and Zoom interviews with people over fifty families whose net worth ranges from 3 million to 400 million, and she has been able to develop trusting relationships where people feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Everything is completely confidential, and there are elaborate practices to protect confidentiality. The study is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.
Families across the United States who are in the top one percent of net wealth will be interviewed. 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 75 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. It looks the challenges faced by extended family members with the requests for assistance from kin. Overall, the study will help to expand our knowledge about the lives of family members among wealthy Americans who have been rarely studied.
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 75 families who are financially comfortable. In a small number of 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 five families, in-depth interviews will be carried out with all available siblings, children, and other extended family members. The subsample will include upwardly-mobile families, including white and African-American families, as well as families with inherited wealth. While Professor Lareau will conduct most of the interviews, Ashleigh Cartwright, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology, also conducted some interviews as a paid doctoral research assistant. 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. 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 to help families as they navigate these challenges.