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The Family Purpose Project: Initial Findings

Publication Authors: 
Kendall Cotton Bronk
Publication Year: 

This presentation shares initial findings from an empirical investigation of family purpose funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The study is exploring the conditions under which family purposes develop and are transmitted to future generations. It investigates 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 significant responsibilities manage their resources in socially beneficial ways. More specifically, our investigation is guided by five questions:

  1. What is family purpose? Although the general contours of this emerging construct are evident, a clear definition that can be operationalized is required for scientific investigation. One aim of this study is to establish a working definition of family purpose that takes into consideration the way an individual’s sense of purpose relates to his or her family purpose.
  2. How do family purposes develop, and how are they transmitted across generations? We are investigating the relationship between the development of family purpose and family interactions, communication styles, and cohesion. We are exploring the role the founding generation has in the formation of family purpose and the way family purposes evolve, are sustained, and are shared with future generations.
  3. What effect does family purpose have on the lives of individual family members? What do families with purpose look like, and how do they function? What are the challenges and benefits of being a member of a family with purpose?
  4. How do religious belief systems influence a family’s purpose? We have a special interest in understanding the role religious and spiritual beliefs play in the formation and transmission of family purposes. Do religious beliefs influence the form a family purpose takes? Are families with shared religious beliefs more likely to develop and transmit purpose?
  5. What can be learned from high-functioning families from typical socioeconomic backgrounds that might help families with significant resources cultivate purpose in their younger generations, and how can what we learn from these high-resource families benefit more typical families? Drawing on the vast family communications literature and on our work with a nominated sample of high-functioning families, we are learning how families from varied socioeconomic backgrounds set and achieve collective, family goals.

To address these questions, we are interviewing individuals from several generations in each family in a sample of ultra-high net worth families and families from middle and working class socioeconomic backgrounds. To date, we have conducted a review of the relevant literature, created and piloted interview protocols of family purpose, and collected and analyzed pilot interviews. In addition to providing an overview of the study design, we are eager to share our data collection methods and initial findings in this presentation.