Words of wisdom
Wealth is, of course, just one of the useful things that parents can pass on to their children. What can prove to be equally valuable in the longer term is some useful parental insight into what the future holds and advice on what to do to be successful. Understanding the challenges that future generations face and how children can rise to them should help them achieve what they want to in life.
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For this final chapter, we researched the views of wealthy respondents around the world to tap their collective wisdom on what the next generation should be expecting and doing. The results reveal some intriguing regional differences and provide a compelling picture of what the future holds for all of us.
Me, only better — parents’ expectations for the next generation
Before asking the respondents what they expected of the future generally, we asked them what they expected of their children in the future. Specifically, we asked whether they wanted their children and stepchildren to be more financially successful than they have been. For most (71%) the answer was yes. There were, however, a material number of people who do not wish such financial success on the next generation. On the face of it this may seem strange, but may be explained by protective parental instincts or a desire for them to succeed in non-financial areas.
Further analysis reveals that individuals who wish their children greater financial success also have other favourable attitudes toward them, specifically they care about their children’s education and they trust them more. We also found that those who wished for their children to follow in their footsteps when choosing a career, wished them further financial success.
Individuals were also asked whether they wanted their children/stepchildren to follow in their footsteps when choosing a career, be this taking over the family business or following a similar path. A fairly modest 28% globally said that they would like this, with a clear split in views between developed and emerging countries. Those who wished to follow in their own parents’ footsteps (see chapter one) want their children, in turn, to follow in theirs. This is the case for all sources of wealth, genders and regions.
The big issues: finances, employment and ageing
Questioned about the top three challenges facing the next generation, the number one selection for 56% of the wealthy was “economic turbulence/inflation/rising taxation.” This is consistently important across all of the surveyed regions, and is a reflection of the scale of the economic problems we face. This top challenge is also linked to the second most cited concern which is “employment opportunities.”
The third biggest global challenge — “caring for an ageing population” — is by no means a common priority in all regions and serves to expose those parts of the world with aged populations. In Europe, this is the single most important challenge, reflecting the fact that the median age of the population is now 40 (United Nations), and that the proportion of the population aged 65 or older is expected to balloon to 23% by 2030 (16% currently, Eurostat). Yet it is seen as being a much lower priority in Latin America, where the median age is just under 30 (United Nations).
The next most important challenge, “climate change/environmental issues,” provokes similar differences of opinion around the world. On the one extreme there is Latin America, where it garners 55% of the vote and is seen as the single most important challenge, and on the other there is the US, where this is only a concern for 24% of those surveyed. Indeed, the results show that more Americans are concerned about the decrease in their country’s influence/power on the global stage than they are about the environment.
When it comes to what subjects the next generation should study, the wealthy are adamant that they should focus on technical subjects. The top three picks, mentioned by 68%, 59% and 54% respectively are IT/technology, mathematics and science. Non-technical fields like social sciences, history and arts all come in significantly lower than a passing grade (under 50%).
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group which represents 20 leading UK universities, agrees in the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — (STEM) subjects — as “STEM graduates earn more on average than others.”
Asked for his comment on this finding, Futurologist and Founder of What’s Next, Richard Watson, pointed to two factors that suggest some caution to this strong technical emphasis is necessary. First, he highlighted the dangers of teaching people to do things that machines will be capable of doing in ten to fifteen years: “If it’s simply the accumulation of facts and then the application of those facts based on certain set rules or known behaviours, machines can do that.” Some of the weak areas for machines are creative thought, human empathy and interaction. “Teaching people answers goes without saying, but I think teaching people how to come up with good questions is becoming more important in many instances.”
“I’m (also) concerned that if you just teach purely practical, business-type skills, where does that actually take us in terms of the quality of our thinking? I think we do need a broader education and we want to get people to understand a bigger picture and a broader context,” Richard Watson went on to argue.
Dr Wendy Piatt agrees with the need for a wider skill base: “In our experience, employers value graduates across a range of subjects, often viewing broader skills as more important than job-specific or technical skills.”
Language: a sign of the times
The rise of China is one of the great macroeconomic stories of our age, and the significance for future generations is revealed in the final question that asked which foreign languages individuals felt were most important for the next generation to learn. Overall, they thought that Chinese was marginally more important than English for the next generation to learn. Its importance was stressed both by native and non-native English speakers, although the latter still placed English ahead of Chinese. Asked to pick between Mandarin and Cantonese, the majority selected Mandarin as the key Chinese language to learn.
In hard numbers, there are far more first-language Chinese speakers (1.2bn people) than for any other language — the next largest, Spanish, boasts 329m and English is marginally behind at 328m (Ethnologue).
But the Chinese threat to English as the global business language seems limited, particularly when one considers that there are reportedly more people studying English in China than there are people in the United States (The Economist).
Beyond Chinese, the English language maintains its popularity amongst the wealthy. Salikoko Mufwene at the University of Chicago investigated the dominance of certain languages. His research found that English is a threat to other languages in countries where it is used as a vernacular, but not at all in countries where it has been adopted to help the local economy interface with the worldwide economy. Thus, English is not likely to overtake Japanese or Mandarin, although it could threaten French in Francophone African countries.