9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS15 Rethinking intergenerational transmission of inequalities

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Changing Patterns of Inequalities Building II, C6.09

Inheritance - Extra income or generator of inequality?

There has always been potential for conflicts when it comes to inheritance and inequality.
Concerning the family and private property as two basic institutions of modern societies, family members take the right to inherit for granted. Actually we witness, that more and more wealth is passed on to family successors. The question that arises is how do bequests influence inequality in society? The common position in politics is that intergenerational inheritance causes social inequality dramatically: The rich become richer and the poor become poorer!
Empirical findings however indicate that heritages oftentimes do not cause inequalites. In fact heirs are already well-off by the time they inherit, thus the bequest can be seen as an "extra income" but not as a cause for inequality. Bequests rather lead to a constancy of the socio-economic position of the family - an intergenerational transmission of inequality.
To what degree however does heritage actually contribute to the gap between the rich and the poor? How exactly are inheritance and inequality connected? Is it truly possible to become wealthy just by inheritance? And if so, how common is this phenomenon? Those questions lead over to a discussion about how to counteract the social gap.

This lecture will provide an overview of contemporary inequalities related to inheritance in Germany. Furthermore we will analyse various determinants of becoming wealthy and thereby focus on the role of heritages, comparing people in wealthy households to those being not wealthy.
Our assumption is that inheritance is not the only and not even the most essential determinant for social inequality. In our opinion this assumption holds, because the emergence of the social position of the family is much closer related to educational and occupational outcomes than to inheritance.
We will discuss this topic theoretically and we will present empirical results. The data we use is the 2009 study "Vermögen in Deutschland (ViD)" (Wealth in Germany), as well as the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) and additional secondary findings. The VID data contains substantial information about approximately 500 wealthy households.