How important is money in a family

Family and Money I

The family is the place where we learn what is important in life. We learn to walk, fall and get up there. There we learn how to handle goods and money. Bettina Wagner from market-easy and Kai Stahr, market researcher at Union Investment, examined with QUALITATIVE RESEARCH.

Long before the media came into our lives, mom already told us what is good and what to be afraid of. These first, non-verbal impressions of the world are then checked bit by bit in toddler age and processed in their own hypotheses. The people in the family make important contributions to this formation of hypotheses, through attempts at bringing up children, verbal teaching of wisdom and of course through role models.

At some point our worldview is largely complete - with countless conscious and unconscious elements, with far-reaching perspectives and short-sighted simplifications. And then the interviewer rings the doorbell and wants to know: "What do you actually think of ...". We look at our worldview. Too complex to explain everything. We take out what is good, what makes us appear in a good light. The plausible parts of the picture. That which we can look at and understand with joy.

Qualitative market researchis not satisfied with that - she wants to take a closer look at the picture, she refers to elements that we have omitted and, ideally, makes it clear to us what is really to be seen in this image section. And then market research leaves the living room. She can explain the picture, but she doesn't know something very important: How the elements got their place and why they were placed this way.

The question

Market research excludes - mostly for economic research reasons - the question which is of much greater interest to social science: How do we actually come to our attitudes?and opinions? But to what extent can this question also be relevant for market research? What is the gain in knowledge, the practical benefit, what additional effort justifies? Can't the market researcher really care how an attitude is created, as long as he can find out how it can be influenced?

We think that this approach falls short and that actually the family context analysisis necessary in order to derive reliable knowledge and effective recommendations for action for practice in the case of complex issues. Because when it comes to complex decisions, such as for products from the financial services sector or when buying durable consumer goods, market researchers and marketers are often faced with seemingly irrational behavior that cannot be explained using traditional methods and is difficult to influence through marketing.

For us, starting points for concretising a research question were studies from the USA that dealt with the effects of extreme financial market crises on people's attitudes. The researchers found that even several generations later, people's risk affinity had changed. It was particularly noteworthy that the attitudes of people from the subsequent generations who had no personal experience of the events were changed. Another approach to the topic came about through the research results on epigenetic effects. The question of how our experiences are passed on is widely discussed here.

The example

The question that Union Investment, the DZ Bank Group's investment company, said: Why do investors hold on to completely unsuitable forms of investment such as savings accounts and overnight money, even in long periods of low interest rates such as the current one - even if they actually lose money with them?

After some studies - quantitatively and qualitatively - could not conclusively answer this question, the basic study "Family genetic code of the investment“Considered. In collaboration with Professors Rolf von Lüde from the University of Hamburg and Christian von Scheve from the Free University of Berlin, a family study was designed on the basis of the research work mentioned, which was based on guideline-based, exploratory multi-generation and peer group interviews.

A total of 30 explorations were carried out:
  • 6 explorations with 3 generations (grandparents, parents, children or grandchildren from 16 years - duration 3 hours each)
  • 17 explorations with 2 generations (parents and children from 16 years - duration 2 hours each)
  • 7 explorations with peer groups (2 to 4 friends - duration 2 hours each)

When selecting the families and peer groups, care was taken to map a broad cross-section of the population - from Hartz IV recipients to normal wage earners and millionaire families. Field time was from January to March 2015.

With the help of this method, three factors could be identified that play an important role in the transfer of empirical knowledge within the family, but which stand in the way of a rational transfer of financial knowledge:

What stands in the way of the rational communication of financial knowledge >>

With the help of this method, three factors could be identified that play an important role in the transfer of empirical knowledge within the family, but which stand in the way of a rational transfer of financial knowledge:

  • A factual simplification through rules of thumb and beliefs,
  • an unconscious role behavior in dealing with money
  • as well as a strong emotional imprint.

Rules of thumb and beliefs

It turned out that there are beliefs about money in every family that are passed on from generation to generation:

"Stocks are only for gamblers"
"Debt is bad"
"You can't spend more than you have"
"You can only complete what you understand"
"Real estate always increases in value"


They are learned as early as infancy and are constantly repeated by almost all family members - and therefore not questioned by adolescents and young adults, although some of them still come from times of war and inflation. This condensed empirical knowledge allows a quick orientation when investing, but suboptimal decisions can be the result if economic realities change and the conclusions do not adapt.

Prof. von Lüde:“Heuristics help people to cope with complex everyday life, to act pragmatically and to remain capable of acting. In the case of financial investments, traditional heuristics that were justified in other historical contexts, especially with regard to long-term investments, can lead to wrong decisions. "

Unconscious past life in role behavior

Dealing with money is unconsciously exemplified. Children learn through observation and imitation. Even in families who go to great lengths to consciously impart a basic financial education to the children, much of the knowledge is imparted unconsciously. Inconsistent role behavior within the family makes orientation difficult, increases uncertainty and leads to contradicting behavior.

Prof. von Lüde:“First of all, through the family, children learn the rules, conventions and values ​​of society. Against this background, it is not surprising that they also adopt the handling of money in a family context, even when there is little or no talk about money in the family. "

If parents say that pocket money is freely available, but then criticize every spending decision the child makes, or if the family maxim is thrift, but the father can afford a luxury model railway system in the basement, the children feel insecure. This is how inconsistencies arise when dealing with money in adulthood: "When I'm at home, I ask myself 'why did you buy this again ?!"

Interestingly, the young people find themselves together again in their peer groups in a similar way as in the family. In the family there is usually one thrifty parent and one more generous parent who leads a power struggle over money. This struggle then continues in the cliques - cinema or meeting at home, vacation together in Mallorca or in the Caribbean - common ground must be negotiated.

Emotional imprint


The family's financial imprint is strong and stable over generations. This also applies to the influence of emotions and symbols. Money and related symbols such as the piggy bank, a savings book or the first checking account are generally positive up to adulthood: "You brought your piggy bank to the Volksbank on World Savings Day and then the amount was entered - it made you feel great!"

The older the children get, the more often money also becomes a means of upbringing - rewards for good performance are paid out in hard cash, a punishment popular with parents is withdrawal of pocket money. Most of the time, the positive attitude changes once you move out. When the cost of living and investments are your own responsibility, they can become a burden. In particular, when the balance between expenditure and income initially leads to negative balances, the internalized mechanisms of reward and punishment come alive.

Then many people become less willing to grapple with questions of money. There are rash and in some cases not very sensible deals with products due to inadequate advice or tips from friends. Because the important aspect of the economy does not actually play a role in school either, the principles of the Germans for dealing with money and saving behavior have in principle remained the same for generations.

The willingness and ability to question the family's traditional investments in the decisive situations is only weak. If the parents, who critically question the mechanisms affecting them, could and would break away from their role behavior and give their children more factual knowledge. Until then, however, there is still a lot of work to be done in schools, training centers and financial institutions, as our study has shown.

In the second post you can read how the study was actually carried out.


The authors:
Bettina WagnerKai Stahr
is a freelance market researcher with a focus on qualitative financial market researchis an operational market researcher at Union Investment. His focus is advertising research, trend research and online research


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