abundance "pumps up the volume" of daily life for young
adults. Because wealth offers extraordinary opportunities,
it often heightens life's good and bad, its clarity and
confusion. Paradoxically, wealth also can be numbing,
cushioning its recipients from the costs of their actions
and from some hard realities faced by most people in the
How do we, the editors,
see these effects play out in the lives of the people
we interviewed? What advice can we pass on?
Autonomy is almost always
an issue in the 20's, rich or not. Parents strive to let
go, and young adults struggle with how to use elders'
guidance yet build lives on their own terms. Wealth certainly
makes it easier to separate from parents physically, as
it eliminates the financial need to live at home or stay
nearby to help out. Yet, for inheritors and their parents,
it can be far harder to disentangle emotionally.
No matter how skillfully
parents bestow wealth and walk that fine line between
nurturance and control, inheritors' lives are deeply affected
by their parents money--not just during a few years of
support, but often for decades or a lifetime. (Young wealth
earners, generally have the opposite situation: their
wealth and "success" tend to increase their self-esteem
and independence from family. They may, however, face
the confusion of moving into a different class position
than their parents.)
Our advice to both generations:
don't expect passing on or receiving wealth to be a piece
of cake. The more we learn about money, the more humbled
we are by how loaded it is with complex, emotionally-charged
Parents, don't give money
to your kids unless you are prepared to have them go their
own way with it. If you are controlling the money through
trusts, don't be surprised if you receive anger and resentment
as well as appreciation.
Inheritors, be prepared
for your parents to have a hard time with your money choices.
Learn about your parents' interests and concerns. Ask
them directly, even if you think you already know. If
possible, use their support, but also get support outside
the family system, including from others dealing with
Friendships and Love:
In college, many people
raised wealthy get to know people from a wider range of
class backgrounds than ever before in their lives. Yet,
fearing rejection, exploitation, or ridicule (and recognizing
that economic privilege can be alienating to those who
are struggling),many keep their wealth a secret from classmates
Whether the differences
are imagined or real, having a lot more (or a lot less)
than others can hinder the building of trust. People pretend
the differences aren't there, or don't matter. The resulting
lack of openness and honesty creates distance, and, at
times, a surreal numbness. This can be particularly hard
when trying to form romantic relationships, and leads
many to narrow their social life and wrap themselves with
people as similar as possible.
We don't want to minimize
the challenges of honest, cross-class relationships. Yet
we are convinced that silence about money is part of what
holds the class system in place. Open, personal discussion
about how money affects all our lives (and the systems
that create disparities) is essential if humanity is ever
to design a balanced economic system in which everyone
Start by taking measured
risks with people you trust the most. Check out groups
that offer training in cross-class dialogue (See page
15). Connect to wealth networks where you can discuss
issues openly. Then gradually expand to wider circles;
be ready to be challenged and to invite new perspectives.
Finding one's niche in
work is almost always a challenge. In the current economy,
the majority of young adults are facing a painful lack
of job opportunities and financial safety nets. These
conditions intensify the differences between those with
wealth and their peers.
Those with financial abundance
can step outside the grim job market and more readily
pursue their dreams. While many young adults flounder
with this overwhelming freedom, most of our interviewees
had seized the opportunity and were pouring themselves
into a chosen field. Many were unabashedly using privilege
to either advance their work, or to live more comfortably
as they carried out less-lucrative but creative, heart-felt
work. As people pursue their dreams, some forget that
class position, as well as brains, talent, and hard work,
is enabling their success.
Those that do stay aware
of their position are sometimes troubled with guilt and
confusion, and hold back from using wealth as a tool.
Our vision is that people will find a middle path: pursue
their dreams, engage their wealth without apology, and
still creatively assist those around them and use their
clout to further fair public policies.
It is not uncommon for
people in their 20's to long to "make a difference" in
the world, yet to feel lost about how. Young adults often
have a more visceral reaction to injustice than do older
people, and wealth can intensify this feeling into an
almost unbearable burden. As one 23-year old said poignantly,
"I feel such a heavy responsibility living in a world
so divided between 'haves' and 'have-nots'. How can I
use what I have, act on my commitment to help others,
but still have a life?"
Wealth alone does not bestow
its owners with the power to fix things; it needs to be
coupled with insight, determination, and perspective about
how much time, energy, and patience it takes to make personal
or social change. Idealistic people (both young and old)
often give up when projects they invest in, give to, or
take part in don't achieve their goals within a few years.
In the 1990s, many young
people are sick of the state of the world and leery of
public life. Our interviewees spoke of using wealth ethically,
but largely within the limited circles of their friendships
or work fields. Many seemed focused on developing their
power as individuals, not as citizens.
Still, a few hold dreams
of supporting collective action for a better world. Says
philanthropy activist Tracy Hewat:
Think about it: we are
experiencing the biggest intergenerational transfer of
wealth this country has ever seen; we also have greater
poverty, social chaos, and class differential than ever
before. If young people like myself stay isolated and
silent about our wealth, let it sit in the bank rather
than using it along with our time and our work, we will
miss an unprecedented opportunity to create positive change.
On the other hand, if we are smart politically, take charge
of our money, and collaborate with other activists (both
wealthy and not), our generation will have a powerful
impact, both on our immediate communities and on the world
We couldn't agree more.
What if young investors started insisting businesses live
up to higher measures of social responsibility? How might
young philanthropists turn the status-quo of the giving
world on its ear? What if the generations, instead of
acting against each other or in isolation, teamed up productively
and combined experience with verve?
We can't wait to see.
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