Housing, wealth and inheritance: A theoretical and empirical exploration
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis is concerned with broadening the existing debates around issues of housing wealth and inheritance. Currently these debates, which have largely been a British concern, focus on the impact of housing wealth inheritance on changing patterns of wealth distribution and social stratification. In this thesis a comparative dimension to the debate is developed, through the examination of issues relating to housing wealth and inheritance in New Zealand. This extension is intended to gauge the wider relevance of the debate and move it on from its somewhat anglocentric focus. Drawing on an array of empirical New Zealand material the stratification theme is addressed. It is argued that while clearly housing wealth is a key component of inheritance in a country like New Zealand which exhibits a mature home ownership sector, the claim that financial gains from housing wealth and its inheritance are such that they provide the basis for new social divisions is somewhat overdrawn. An examination of deceased persons' estates data and a case study of housing transmissions highlight the significant variations in the sizes of estates and support the contention that the divisions within the category of inheritors are as important as the divisions between inheritors and non-inheritors. A further extension focuses on the dimensions of inheritance that are more than simply economic. Through an analysis of special gifts bequeathed in wills and the meanings attached by inheritors to the money they inherit, it is shown that the study of inheritance can reveal much about the meanings of family relationships, the construction of identity through material goods and wealth, notions of morality and much else. The thesis is also concerned with using inheritance behaviour as a basis for critiquing the portrayal of economic behaviour in neo-classical economics and mainstream sociology. Inheritance behaviour does not show actors as being driven by the principles of rational choice but as being embedded in sets of ongoing social relations which influence their treatments and understandings of inheritance. The development and practice of an approach to 'doing sociology' is also addressed in this thesis.