Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations


Three generations life stories by family line video chicagoYou may have heard the old proverb, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” In Japan, the expression goes, “Rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations.” The Scottish say “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” In China, “Wealth never survives three generations.”

Around the world there are many variations on this theme, all used to describe the tendency of third generation to squander the wealth obtained by the first and second generations.

The Three Generation Cycle

The First Generation comes from a life of hardship and is determined to have a better future. They are willing to work hard and make the sacrifices necessary in order to achieve their dream. By their later years, their efforts pay off; they are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, often with assets to pass on.

Their children, the Second Generation, grow up a witness to their parent’s struggle and understand the importance of hard work. Although they live a more comfortable lifestyle, they may still remember a childhood filled with frugality. Because of this awareness, they make financial and educational choices that help them build upon the foundation their parents worked so hard to create. By their later years, the second generation has acquired even greater wealth.

The Third Generation, however, has no memory of want or struggle. They only know a life of plenty and often lack an understanding of the work that went into building the lifestyle they now enjoy. It is this third generation that has become known to squander the wealth their parents and grandparents worked so hard to build.

Avoiding the Three Generation Cycle

Milk Truck Family Line Video Legacy Videos ChicagoBy keeping family stories and history alive, younger generations are better able to understand their parents and grandparents’ efforts as well as the work needed to build and maintain family wealth. For families facing the Three Generation cycle, awareness of one’s past should be included in any strategy for the future.


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Give your parent or grandparent the gift of a lifetime by capturing their life story in a Video Memoir.

Family History Activities Life Videos by Family Line VideoHere at Family Line Video we produce Legacy Videos, modern-day memoirs that weave a filmed and interview together with family photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia. The result is a beautiful ‘moving portrait’ capturing your loved one as they recount their life story and memories – a gift your family will treasure for generations to come.

To learn more about Legacy Videos, visit FamilyLineVideo.com.

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7 thoughts on “Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations”

  1. Indeed, as I (1980) was growing up, my mother and her sisters would often inculcate me in frugality with stories of their mother (my grandmother and her brothers’ struggles during the Great Depression. That, along with my own higher educational studies in Economics has\ve made me fiercely frugal.

  2. Indubitably, fortune is forged in the fire (i.e. struggle, hardship). It is rare for family fortunes to be insinuated into the fabric of a family (e.g. Rockfellers, Waltons, Bushes, et al.).

  3. Wow, I am co-writing a “Family Banking Book” right now, and found this (wonderful) little article about the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” phenomenon. I LOVE what you are doing and will mention you as a resource, as indeed, telling those family stories is so important!

  4. Strong family values of people rather than wealth. Adams said he would study war so his son could study being a merchant and his grand son being an artist. Living life simply. The Tao helps me.

  5. I lived the “shirtsleeves” story. I worked in finance/insurance to help others avoid it and am now writing a book to share with the world a unique solution. I find it ironic that most successful advisors spend all of their time, energy and creativity to support only wealthy clients. We should be finding financial solutions for the middle class which is our country’s economic engine.

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