Is Wealth Thicker than Blood? The Social Order of Wealthy Families

Isabell Stamm

At the upper end of the wealth distribution in Germany, very large fortunes are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and families. These fortunes have grown historically and represent individual and dynamic configurations of property, with firm ownership usually playing a prominent role. But how do very wealthy families relate to their property and, in particular, to firm ownership? Research on family capitalism assumes a long-term interest in the firm, which is passed down through generations and usually directly controlled. In parallel, research on financial market capitalism describes an increasing assetization and exit orientation, focusing on short-term returns and diversified portfolios. In very wealthy owner families, these different orientations of family entrepreneurs, rentiers, or serial entrepreneurs come together and challenge families to balance the meaning of firm ownership for themselves. Following a sociology of ownership and based on narrative interviews with family members, the research project traces the ownership histories of families at the upper end of the wealth distribution. The goal is to elaborate upon the plural meanings of property within these families and with regard to the temporal outlooks, stakeholders, and influence they ascribe to their property. This project is also part of the Research Focus Wealth and Social Inequality.

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