How Economic Elites Transmit Wealth Across Generations

Awarded Scholars:
Annette P. Lareau, University of Pennsylvania
Project Date:
Jun 2018
Award Amount:

The distribution of wealth is much more unequal than that of income: about half of all households have zero net worth, whereas the top one percent control 44.1 percent of total net worth. Social scientists have devoted little attention to the ways in which elite families transmit wealth to their children, including the cultural dimensions of wealth, such as approaches to handling money or training their children to manage wealth. 

Sociologist Annette Lareau will examine the cultural dimensions of wealth within families to provide insights into the motives, thoughts, and behaviors elites have regarding wealth. She will conduct 64 face-to-face, in-depth interviews with wealthy native-born whites and African Americans who are in the top one percent of households in net worth ($7.9 million or more). She will ask them about their hopes of creating a legacy, any stigma they may face as elites and the steps they may take to manage it, and the kinds of opportunities that wealth provides for developing the talents and skills of family members. In eight of the families, she will conduct an intensive case study of multiple generations. Lareau will also focus on the ways in which families approach the transfer of wealth across generations, including in-vivo transfers, wills, trusts, gifts, and other transfers. She will try to get copies of wills, trusts, and tax records.


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