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With each new generation, an opportunity arises to reflect on, confirm, and transmit a family’s beliefs about its responsibility to others. In a fifteen-year program of research, we (Kendall Bronk, William Damon, and colleagues) have determined that purpose is essential for gaining an understanding of how people develop a commitment for responsibility to others. This research, however, has focused only on individual commitment: the question of how collective (or family) purpose develops has not been explored.

The proposed study seeks to bring the scientific knowledge of individual purpose to bear on the problem of wealth transmission among leading families and collective family purpose. In short, we aim to advance our understanding of how family purposes develop and how they can be encouraged, especially among families with extraordinary responsibilities.

Although it may well be the case that all families benefit by more intentionally focusing on their collective purpose, doing so may be particularly important for families who earn and inherit significant wealth, since these families control billions of dollars that can be allocated in socially beneficial ways or that can be squandered. The decisions these families make influence the lives of people around the world.

We are requesting funds to support a year to plan for a mixed-methods, empirical study that explores the conditions under which family purposes develop and are transmitted to new generations. We aim to better understand what effective family conversations about purpose entail, who broaches them, and what impact they have on family members. We seek to learn how purpose can help families with extraordinary responsibilities manage their resources in socially beneficial ways and how it can help such families thrive.