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All in the Family

Gila Arnold

It’s the classic Jewish mother’s kvell: “My son, the doctor…” Yet curiously enough, there’s many a mother who can boast of “My son … and daughter … and son-in-law … and cousin, the doctor.” Do careers run in families? What sort of family produces what type of professional? Family First explores this unusual intersection between work and home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Several years ago, the Times of London reported an interesting, emerging phenomenon. People exploring their family trees on genealogy websites were discovering that their chosen professions were reflected in the professions of ancestors they’d never known existed. While some attributed this trend to a genetic predisposition toward certain talents or personality traits (such as the man who discovered he was a fifth-generation watchmaker and attributed it to a strong familial quality of patience), sociologist Eric Harrison disagreed.

Maintaining that it had more to do with what he called “inherited cultural capital,” he explained that there is a set of knowledge and values nurtured in every home that a child absorbs unconsciously.

The Rothschilds and banking. The Kennedys and politics. Certain families are synonymous with their profession. While books have been written analyzing these famous families, many of us know less glorified cases of families who keep having members take up a single profession. There are even cases of clans whose married-in members also share the family career. Unlike a family business, where there is often an expectation that ensuing generations, including sons-in-law, will join in, these family members chose their fields independently, and are sometimes working in different cities, or even different countries.

Which begs the question: was the injunction to become a lawyer absorbed in their childhood? Was the mantra “you will go to medical school” played one hundred times in their ears every night after they went to sleep? All families have their unique traits, their charming quirks (not to mention their embarrassing stories and “interesting” relatives). But when you see a family whose ranks are predominantly employed in a specific career, you have to ask yourself, what special confluence of heredity and environment existed to create such a statistically improbable situation?

In a quest to learn more about this phenomenon, Family First spoke to several such families. Perhaps you will recognize your own family in the prototypes presented below.

 

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