real life

'I'm surrounded by friends who have generational wealth. They complain they're poor.'

You know that moment in The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, the recent Saltburn, or countless other books and movies where a young man from working or middle-class beginnings is taken in by a member of the aristocracy and gets to see their luxurious, glittering world? I've been that character countless times.

I was raised among expats across Asia and the Middle East, which meant my junior school friends were heirs to billion-dollar shipping companies, or had five houses around the world, they were on a plane to some new destination every other week (in first class, of course) but their families didn't visit luxury resorts – they owned them.

I moved to Sydney and the private school system, where girls and boys with unimaginable family fortunes talked of being unable to afford the designer handbags they wanted on their generous allowances and yet drove their families' boats to pick each other up from their waterfront mansions on weekends. 

I remember them getting cars for birthday presents, and had a friend whose parents bought her whatever she wanted – and she wanted everything.

Watch: Survey shows the wealth gap in Australia. Post continues below.

Video via ABC News.

After uni, I moved to London and fell in with an aristo-British crowd, who owned penthouses in Pimlico and who took me and my friends to private clubs all up and down the Kings Road. They could trace their lineages back to the Middle Ages and knew royals and no expense was spared in their lives. 


Their well-paying careers were also as inherited as their club memberships.

A lot of the people described above are still my friends. If from the expat set, their Instagrams are pages of travel photos. In First Class, of course. The Sydney crowd all had investment apartments bought for them in their twenties. They were landlords by 23 and went from private school to corporate jobs their parents got them, where they met corporate, wealthy partners. Their money was then pooled. The leg-ups continued as they sold those investment properties to buy even bigger apartments – or houses. All while they stand to inherit multi-million dollar fortunes and family mansions.

They also get unlimited do-overs. 

There's a myth Elon Musk succeeds at everything he does, getting the funds from one enterprise to start the next, but that's never been the case – he's failed countless times, but where normal people go bankrupt and deal with debt, he immediately uses his family money to start the next endeavour. My friends in turn have started companies, failed and started again. Regular people get one, maybe two, shots.

But my friends talk about being poor.

While their lives were unfolding, I took up a freelance career. I had minimum-wage jobs to support me while I got it up and running. I struggled financially. Money has never not been on my mind. I'm scared to spend it, in case it runs out. Because it has run out.


Again, I'm not badly off, and I own my choices. It's been hard, and financial stress takes a hefty toll, one I'm not sure has been worth it. But it was still my privilege to make the choice. I still could turn to family in an emergency. 

In working all my jobs, I've met people on the other side – young people who come from no money, who have no backup, who never had a car bought for them, painstakingly work low-paying jobs to pay for university, who struggle to pay bills. They do not have backup plans; they do not have anywhere to fall. And how impossible it is to get anywhere when you start at the bottom and don't get a single leg up. Yet time and time again, they've also been the best, most generous people I know. 

My ultra-privileged friends don't interact with any of these people, nor anyone outside their bubble. They don't see this other side – it feels like they can't even recognise it exists. And that's maybe why they feel it's reasonable to complain about being too poor to buy the nicest house in the most desirable neighbourhood and having to settle for second best. They complain their lives are stressful while spending a million dollars on renovations. They complain that they have no money, then within the hour ask if they should buy $1000 bags or dresses.

Listen to The Quicky speak about the troubles with generational inheritance. Post continues after audio.

I love them, and they are good, and loving friends to me, but I envy them. I envy the ease with which they're able to live their lives. Even on the most petty level – I wonder what it would be like to order food without looking at the price. Or go on a holiday without intense saving, budgeting and spending hours scouring for sales and deals. What's it like on that well-cushioned other side?


If I speak about not being able to afford a flight or having a broken car, they equate it to not being able to get business class seats on a flight, like we're all struggling together, equally. I look at them, having struggled to pay bills, having been on unemployment, and I wonder how on earth they think me being scared I can't pay a medical bill is akin to them not buying the newest Louboutins. Or there's outright confusion – then borrow money? Just fix it? You're upset you need a medical procedure insurance won't cover? Just spend the $100k then? What's the problem? Why are you stressed?

I don't believe my friends are bad people. But they are ignorant ones. 

It increasingly feels like the ignorance is on purpose, so they don't have to acknowledge how great the wealth gap is. I'm not sure it's a coincidence my privileged friends don't keep up with the news or really get involved in politics. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, one friend didn't even know what it was, and when I told her she didn't care – that's an American problem. Then she continued discussing a pricey coat she wanted. 

It's hard to believe that, deep down, she doesn't know that striking down abortion rights in America impacts Australia… but that it will largely be the poor and oppressed who suffer. I think she knows she will always have options.

I've also noticed they don't contribute to the community or donate to charity. One junior school friend, during the Black Lives Matter movement, contributed to the cause – her words – by publishing a beautifully put-together newsletter of aristocratic white British women like her saying what they wished for the world. It was breathtakingly tone deaf, but not to her bubble, who heaped praise on her. And it never left said bubble, so I'm sure she never learned better.


As the examples pile up, I wonder – are their lives just so secluded that they genuinely can't put themselves in anyone else's shoes? It's impossible to know because though we discuss all other areas of life, most of them will not discuss their generational wealth or the inequality around it. It's a brick wall I have never been able to scale. And so the inequality is able to continue.

My friends aren't undeserving of nice lives, but people who have nothing deserve a lot more. 

My friends without generational wealth are much less likely to succeed because they spend all their time just trying to make ends meet. What contributions ideas and brilliance are we missing out on when most opportunities go to the wealthy and privileged? We could benefit from a fairer wealth distribution... but how do we create change when those in power are so far removed from the problem they won't even talk about it?

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty.

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