The generation game

The generation game

Is it true that we are destined to disappoint our parents? For the last few days I have been haunted by a saying that is at the heart of every Sunday night drama from the 70’s weepy Rich Man Poor Man to today’s Downton Abbey. The great American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie summed it up with the words “we are but three generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves”, which loosely translates as  “the first generation makes the money, the second generation spends it and the third has to start all over again.”

Is that still true? And if so which generation do you sit in? The thrifty hardworking ants? The idle grasshoppers enjoying the sunshine? Or the ladybirds left homeless because their feckless parents let the house burn down?

I’m a bit scared that I lie firmly in the guilty middle spot – happily reaping the rewards from my hardworking parents but in danger of turning into a micro version of the Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton and blowing the lot before our children are old enough to cough politely and enquire about their mortgage deposit.

But so far so good and we’ve made it this far without a knock on the door from the bailiffs, so maybe we’re the ones to buck the trend.

If not, and I wake up tomorrow morning on the streets without even the nous to adopt a talented cat like Big Issue seller turned blockbuster author James Bowen, there is some cheering news from the American Sociological Review to keep me warm.

According to a study of 17,000 people’s family backgrounds carried out by academics from Oxford and Durham our grandparents’ genes, financial success and influence can put right most of the damage inflicted on children by feckless or unlucky parents.

They discovered that if your grandparents enjoyed managerial or professional status then you are 80% as likely to attain the same levels of social mobility even if your parents ran away to Bali or squandered their inheritance on fags n booze.

That’s a comforting thought in the wee small hours when I worry that I am but a bad blog away from bankruptcy. Now where did I put that holiday brochure?

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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