Intergenerational wealth goes beyond money—and everyone deserves to pursue it

May 6, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC
“Wealth goes beyond dollars and cents,” writes Charisse Conanan Johnson. “Wealth is about the tangible and intangible assets that give you the freedom and opportunity to live the life you desire.”
Photo courtesy of Charisse Conanan Johnson

As I look into the eyes of my 2-year-old daughter, I am reminded every day how important it is to ensure that she has every opportunity to pursue her dreams. One of the ways that my husband and I want to provide this opportunity is by passing on to her the resources, ideas, experiences, and love that remind her that her wildest dreams are possible. In essence, we want to transfer our wealth so that she has the freedom to choose her own path in life.

In essence, we believe in the power of intergenerational wealth. We not only want to transfer our wealth to our daughter, but to her children and beyond. As a Black American, I am not alone. Black Americans, according to the 2021 Ariel-Schwab survey, are twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that they want to leave money to their children or heirs. 

Traditionally, wealth has been diluted down to dollars and cents. Pew Research Center defines wealth as net worth or “the value of assets owned by a family, such as a home or a savings account” and as a source of income that “provides security and social status for future generations.” In America, this wealth is plentiful, with American households holding over $98 trillion of net worth in 2018 (with $113 trillion in household assets and $15 trillion in household debt). These assets are often diverse in nature as well, with 75% taking the form of stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, and privately held businesses.

However, for many people in America, accumulating wealth is just not possible. Plenty of well-documented research forcefully concludes that America was set up to prevent certain communities from obtaining wealth. The out-of-balance discrepancies in opportunity and power stretch back to the very founding of this country, where racial exploitation and profiteering were prioritized over equitable prosperity and growth. The ongoing wealth gap between Blacks and whites reveals a society that historically, and to this day, refuses to promote an inclusive and equitable economy for all. For example, the average white family’s net worth, at $171,000, is almost 10 times as great as that of the average Black family at $17,150. This inequality of wealth between Black and white households reveals the aftermath of accumulated inequality, racism, and discrimination. In conjunction with my work at Next Street, where we work with clients to drive more capital to marginalized small-business owners, the hard data unveils real systemic barriers that prevent small-business owners of color from growing and scaling. 

In the wake of the ongoing racial injustices and socioeconomic disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous efforts to close the racial wealth gap. We can look no further than the new Biden-Harris administration’s focus on racial equity as a sign for how important this issue is for our entire country. 

That said, I also challenge the notion that Americans, especially communities of color, should measure their wealth and success solely by traditional measures, since some communities weren’t equipped to achieve wealth through traditional systems in the first place. Our systems that bring forth wealth are flawed and broken, and by measuring all of your wealth by the same system that inherently shuns certain marginalized communities, you’ll only be left with disappointment. 

I think it is important to have wealth that goes beyond dollars and cents. Wealth must also encompass one’s intangible assets, such as your unique skills and talents, well-being, emotional and mental health, educational opportunities, relationships and networks, and access to cultural forms (such as art, museums, and traveling) that enhance one’s social capital.

Wealth is about the tangible and intangible assets that give you the freedom and opportunity to live the life you desire. I recently published A Wealthy Girl: 7 Steps to Prosperity, Peace, and Personal Power because of my daughter, yet I was also inspired to document the stories of tangible and intangible wealth accumulation by my mother and grandmothers. The book offers practical steps to generate holistic wealth and provides an intangible asset that not only my daughter will benefit from but any reader as well. This knowledge, therefore, is just another asset that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

Creating avenues for holistic intergenerational wealth transfer, especially for communities of color, requires an acceptance that both tangible and intangible wealth matter. In order for this kind of wealth transfer to happen successfully, we need all of the players in the system—corporate institutions, government, and philanthropy—to understand the systemic issues at play and their own role in the problem so that they can commit to being part of innovative solutions that work toward generating equitable wealth for all.

If we can do this, I believe wholeheartedly that future generations will be the manifestation of this reality—that anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality, can live the life they desire. 

Charisse Conanan Johnson is a managing partner at Next Street and author of A Wealthy Girl: 7 Steps to Prosperity, Peace, and Personal Power.

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