Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Taking a Deeper Look into the Lives of the Wealthy - A New Perspective


With the financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wealth-management firm Calibre, Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy will conduct the first National survey of its kind – looking into the hearts and minds of wealthy Americans.

The survey will target households worth $25 million or more and is expected to have over 1,000 respondents. Unlike many other surveys, it will not focus on the participants’ spending habits, but explore their motivations for charitable giving and happiness level instead.

Below are some details about the survey from Robert Frank, Mr. Gates Queries His Peers, WSJ.com, Nov. 9, 2007:

"We believe the survey will make an extraordinary contribution toward helping us understand what drives donors to give and what they need in order to give effectively[.]"***

One question asks whether the respondents give to nonprofit groups to "change the world" or because "it makes good business sense." The survey also asks if people give to charity because of tax deductions and whether a repeal of the estate tax would change their giving. (Many argue that a repeal could hurt philanthropy, because parents could leave more to their kids without paying taxes.)***

A recent wave of research into happiness has shown that happiness levels plateau at a certain wealth level. Yet researchers haven't been able to measure people at the very top of the wealth ladder. While some say the very rich may be happier than the merely affluent, because they have more freedoms, others argue that happiness levels may decline at the top because of the complexities and troubles that wealth can bring, such as family feuds and lawsuits.***

It will also ask respondents how they made their wealth: through investing, starting companies, corporate jobs or through inheritance, among others. While some studies have shown that inherited wealth is declining as a share of today's millionaires, who are mainly entrepreneurs, the Gates study could offer evidence to the contrary.***

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


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