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Black/African Americans’ Journey to Generational Wealth

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Every parent dreams of providing their children with opportunities that lead to happy and healthy lives. The importance of hard work, education, and kindness is instilled in us as children in hopes that it influences our future. But how do those values affect the ways we make a living, spend our money, and set our financial goals?


There has been a 65% increase in the number of affluent Black/African American households, compared to 53% for the general population.

To better understand what this looks like for Black/African Americans, Merrill explored how common experiences shape the Black/African American community’s financial goals, concerns, and aspirations. After conducting wide-scale research through deep conversations, online discussions, and surveys with affluent Black/African Americans, Merrill shared the findings in “Diverse Viewpoints: Exploring Wealth in the Black/African American Community.” For instance, the study found that over the past five years, there has been a 65% increase in the number of affluent Black/African American households, compared to 53% for the general population. The report’s insights delved into the themes of identity, work, money, and dreams of the future.


Those dreams are the very thing that motivate Doug, a father and professor. With a high-ranking position in education, Doug is his ancestors’ wildest dream. His career path is also a far cry from his roots, which can be traced back to slavery and Jim Crow era-produced inequity when even learning to read for some Black/African Americans was illegal. Doug’s grandfather worked in a garment factory, his great-grandfather was a sharecropper, and his great-great-grandfather was enslaved.


This story may sound familiar. Many Black/African American families’ histories are riddled with barriers our ancestors faced just to survive another day. But it’s also important to keep in mind that their sacrifices served as steppingstones to pathways we’re traveling today.


“This is our moment. Now, standing on the shoulders of these giants who came before me, I am in a position to build a new legacy for my family.”

“We haven’t had the opportunities to truly accumulate wealth until very recently,” Doug said. “This is our moment. Now, standing on the shoulders of these giants who came before me, I am in a position to build a new legacy for my family.” Like Doug, many of us are looking to do the same for our loved ones. Merrill’s survey inspires us to ask ourselves some important questions. Such as, what comes to mind when you hear the word “wealth”?


If a few different definitions come to mind, you’re not alone. We’re in a time during which many people think of comfort, access, and opportunity as correlatives of financial health.  This could be truly enjoying the fruits of our labor and having a sense of freedom that only financial security affords. This is quite nuanced and complex for the affluent Black/African Americans who participated in Merrill’s study.


For instance, participants noted that passing on an inheritance or leaving assets for one’s children was not something that happened commonly within their families. Many said that conversations about wealth transfer, inheritances, or estate planning didn’t occur during their upbringing, as intergenerational wealth has historically been a luxury afforded to communities who have not had to overcome systemic barriers to wealth accumulation. Interestingly, the survey found that affluent Black/African Americans have redefined what wealth transfer looks like. For instance, participants shared that passing down morals and values is important for future generations.  


“I thought the study really validated my personal thoughts of wealth accumulation and hard work,” says Denita, Vice President of Supply Chain and Support Services at the Southern California Gas Company, during a roundtable conversation conducted by Merrill. Raised on the South Side of Chicago by a police commander father and school principal mother, she recalls the tough feedback on her schoolwork received from her parents.  This, she said, instilled a work ethic she still leans on today. It’s those early lessons that have motivated how she thinks about building wealth and financial planning.


Denita is right about the hurdles many of us will face on the journey ahead. One of the most important steps to take when building wealth is understanding your options and taking a closer look at your current financial picture. Taking the time to work with a trusted and culturally competent financial advisor – like one of the 14,000 at Merrill – can help you make a personalized plan that makes sense for your financial future. And you would not be alone in this. In fact, Merrill’s study found that 58% of affluent Black/African Americans are already working with a financial advisor.


Denita looks forward to the day when she can pass down property to her children. Her hope is for them to have a home in which they can raise their own families. Leaving her children an inheritance is what legacy looks like for Denita, and she’s not alone in wanting to set up her children for financial success. According to the study, 21% of affluent Black/African Americans aspire to pass down wealth as part of their financial plan.


“I think it’s more important that we plan. Plan your work and then work your plan.”

“I think it’s more important that we plan. Plan your work and then work your plan,” says Denita.


Many of us have seen our family members “try to make a dollar out of 15 cents.” And they often don’t take their earnings to the bank. Justifiably, there is a deep history of mistrust in the Black/African American community towards the banking industry due to a long history of legislation restricting minority access to mainstream financial services.


Diane, a Black/African American financial advisor, understands the historical context around the systemic barriers in wealth accumulation. That’s why she’s working to break down debilitating beliefs about wealth building. 


“In the Black community, there is still skepticism around the intangibility of the products,” Diane said. 


A key part of an advisor’s job is to make financial planning tangible for those who would like someone to walk with them on their wealth-building journey.


“We are trying to demonstrate that part of creating wealth – the part that is distinct from income – is making the money work for you and that it’s okay to ‘let someone else do the work,’” Diane said.


Black/African Americans have their eyes on the future financial success of their families, and Merrill’s report is just one of the ways financial institutions are listening to and learning from this community to better serve them and earn their trust.


Overall, resiliency and excellence are in our DNA.


Our people have been making a way out of no way for centuries even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. We have no choice but to strive to make our lives the best we can because we now have more resources, information, and access to make future generations proud. We are already the manifestation of our ancestors’ wildest dreams. Merrill is working to help you realize them, right now.


Learn more about Merrill’s study that includes insights and stories around wealth and identity from the Black/African American community at


New to Merrill? Connect with a Merrill advisor.

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