Sunday, February 09, 2014

Family Legacies Can Last For Centuries

Samuel Pepys
"Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" doesn't tell the whole story. In The Son Also Rises Gregory Clark asserts that family prosperity – using multiple measures including education, occupation and access to wealth – can last for three or four centuries.

One poster child for Clark's theory: Samuel Pepys, seventeenth-century British navy bureaucrat and author of the best diary* I ever read.
Pepys has always been a rare surname, flirting with extinction. In 1880 there were only thirty-seven Pepyses in England, and by 2002 they were down to eighteen. Seventeenth-century parish records of baptisms and marriages suggest there were only about forty Pepyses living art one time even then. The Pepyses emerged from obscurity in 1496 when one of them enrolled at Cambridge University, and they have prospered ever since. Since 1496, at least fifty-eight Pepyses have enrolled at Oxford or Cambridge, most recently in 1995. For an every surname of this population size, the expected number of enrollees would be two or three.
In Clark's view money isn't everything. Even if one generation drifts from wealth to "shirtsleeves" – deserting family for social work in Africa or beachcombing in the Caribbean – the next is likely to return to prosperity, perhaps helped through college by a doting grandmother.

Or by a trust fund left by grandfather.

* The Pepys diary online is annotated with links that help London in the 1600s come alive for the modern reader. I keep meaning to reread the diary. If you haven't, you should.

No comments: