CEO of Smartlink communication. Global analyst, consultant and trainer, passionate about leadership, global communication and competition.
As Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of capital is to believe, marriage as we have come to know is a relatively recent affair. When rural workers moved to the urban agglomeration in the early 1800s to take up factory jobs, during what has come to be known as the Amazing transformationPeople who were relatively free of family or religious restrictions, among other things, began to seek partners with a similar position in life.
The concept of the developing nuclear family was new at the time. Marriage was traditionally a formal alliance between two families – often with clan-like structures – and was based primarily on interest.
The scope varied greatly. Two farming families could trade what was seen rather openly as farm labour. Alternatively, as we move up in the social classes, it may be a matter of vertical or horizontal business integration, for example the potter’s daughter and the village bread maker’s son. At the higher levels, marriage could represent the distribution of enormous wealth; the various titles of the Habsburg Charles V extended over 13 lines and ended with an eyebrow-raising ‘etc.’ which may well have encompassed a country or two. In all cases, however, it was primarily a business decision based on one of the most secure contracts available at the time: the sacred marriage.
The new context
As the first three industrial revolutions changed much of the world at a historically unprecedented rate, the concept of marriage became standard. With poverty declining, nation-states providing education, and the rise of civil rights, many chose to eschew calculated utilitarianism for more sentimental pursuits. But there are reasons to believe that what we have come to know as a standard was actually a transient phenomenon and quite short-lived.
What the past 50 years have shown, at least anecdotally, is that marriage as a formalized covenant has not become less prevalent, but in many cases the new normal.
Marriage itself, of whatever motivation, has steadily become a presence in the upper middle and upper classes. Marriage rates in the West are very heterogeneous between social classes. At the same time, that top 10% has come to keep an increasing share of wealth and national income in private hands –52% of global net income worldwide is owned by the top 10%, and 72% of the national wealth is owned by the top 10% in the United States. More than half of the jobs in the US are provided by family businesses.
In other words, these formal alliances affect most of the wealth, income and employment in many countries.
The resurgence of more “reasoned” marriages has several implications. The Federal Trade has written about the effects of the intergenerational transfer of wealth, with cash being the easiest to measure and trace, but very simple, they have yet to get up and make an impromptu speech at weddings about the evils of monopoly.
Inheritance laws are no match for tax accountants and estate planners and together I see this super taxing the agglomeration of wealth at the top.
So-called new money mixes freely with old money in a way that often multiplies cultural capital, connections and finances. As a result, we’re seeing a new breed of global superclans emerging to rival the traditional royalties that have defined so much of history, and whose lives may come to dominate ours just as much as the profits or merger announcements of an S&P 500 -company.
On the plus side, it should be noted that the aforementioned marriages are more successful, egalitarian and resilient than in the past. It can also be noted that more educated and wealthy people tend to marry late after ‘careful consideration’. According to The economist“Their marriages are very successful – on average almost certainly the happiest the world has ever seen” and that “divorce among this privileged group is becoming increasingly rare.” At the very least, this fact provides a guide to what constitutes a successful, rewarding, and lifelong partnership that many business leaders can take to heart in one of life’s most profound decisions.