There's a fascinating conversation going on across several blogs. Meg at World of Wealth started it all by admitting that she comes from a wealthy family who continue to give her money and to back her financially. In later posts, she explores the effects of growing up wealthy in even more detail. Madame X from My Open Wallet weighs in thoughtfully. The Dog Ate My Finances explores the same issue from a the perspective of a poor girl who's made good, as indeed she has since she's in her mid-20's and earns around $200,000 a year.
I guess you know where Grace falls in all this--my background is much like the author of "The Dog Ate My Finances." My dad was a carpenter first, and then a longshoreman. We were solidly working class, living in a solidly working class mill town. With only one elementary school, one junior high and one high school, there wasn't much of a "wrong side of town," though if there had been, we were probably living in it.
I grew up, went to a state college (on scholarship), and then to an ivy league graduate school (on scholarship) on the east coast where I was blown away by the distinctions between rich and poor. It was as though the rich were an alien species--so far removed from my life that I couldn't relate to them but was still intrigued by their lives and delighted to share in that from time to time.
Now I'm in the middle of the middle class or maybe a tad toward the lower middle class when you add in my five kids. While I could use more money and less debt, I'm not unhappy with my position in life. Having friends who are wealthy and politically powerful (though not always both), as well as friends who never made it out of the small town we grew up in, and a few friends who got lost along the way to mental illness, drug abuse or Vietnam, I've also had a chance to compare my life with theirs.
The biggest advantage I can see to having been reared poorer is an enhanced sense of choice. Once I went to college, my parents considered their work done. They had no further aspirations for me (or for my sister--actually, they didn't even expect her to go to college, much less graduate, head into international banking and make a fortune). When my sister went into banking, they were thrilled. But then, they were thrilled when she first wanted to go to nursing school, and if she had succeeded there, they would have been just as satisfied.
I note that many of my friends felt like they HAD to go to certain schools, HAD to make a lot of money, HAD to have certain kinds of jobs, HAD to marry certain types of partners and HAD to leard certain lives. My choices, on the other hand, were wide open. When I made an early decision to work among the poor, my family thought that decision was fine. When my first job paid me $9,000 a year, no one in my family told me it was beneath me.
My parents were both reared during the depression. They were savers but they were also sharers. If I needed money, they gave it to me. The quid pro quo was that I never asked for too much because I knew they didn't have it to give.
The other great advantage is an ability to move between classes with greater comfort. By this, I mean it is easier for me to hang out with wealthy friends than it is for them to be constantly in the company of working class people. I know more about their way of life than they do of mine or, God forbid, my lower class friends. They are never going to be comfortable camping out and drinking beer but I do just fine in fancy restaurants drinking wine that costs more than the dinner.
Poor people know that the wealthy make fun of them, but it never really occurs to wealthy people that they can look ludicrous as well or that poor people notice and mock them in return.
I don't believe that there is anything ennobling about poverty. However, being reared without a lot of extra money in a working class or middle class home often brings with it choices and aspirations that are not limited by the ennui or demands of having too much money.
In my personal view, being born poverty stricken or extremely wealthy are both situations to be financially and emotionally overcome