Justifying inherited wealth: Between ‘the bank of mum and dad’ and the meritocratic ideal

Moor, Liz and Friedman, Sam. 2021. Justifying inherited wealth: Between ‘the bank of mum and dad’ and the meritocratic ideal. Economy and Society, 50(4), pp. 618-642. ISSN 0308-5147 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

How do people reconcile belief in meritocracy with the receipt of unearned economic gifts? Drawing on interviews with first time homeowners who had bought property with familial gifts or inheritances, we find that many downplay the intergenerational privilege associated with gifting by reporting extended family histories of working-class struggle, upward social mobility and meritocratic striving. Interviewees also draw boundaries between their own wealth and the less legitimate wealth of others, or dispute the significance of gifting compared to other inequalities. We further argue that gifting is a site where two competing logics, the ‘domestic’ and family-orientated and the ‘civic’ and meritocratic, collide. While these competing principles appear to be in conflict, we detail how many labour discursively to bring them into alignment. Here interviewees deploy a humble ‘intergenerational self’ to recast familial gifts as evidence of multigenerational meritocratic success. Yet, while some successfully reconcile these conflicting ‘orders of worth’, for others the tension remains unresolved.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):



inequality; meritocracy; housing; assets; social mobility; inheritance tax

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


18 May 2021Accepted
6 September 2021Published Online

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Date Deposited:

20 Sep 2021 15:12

Last Modified:

05 Oct 2021 15:54

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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