Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you are no doubt well aware of the upcoming nuptials taking place this weekend. Prince Harry and soon-to-be-Princess Meghan Markle will join the likes of James Bond and Felix Leiter, and Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on the wall of fame of British-American partnerships. But with all this talk of the royal wedding, have you ever wondered how blue your blood is?
Well, the clue is in the name – or in this case, your surname – and if you hop on over to Ancestry.com, you can find out the geographical location and life expectancy as well as the livelihoods of your blood clan. (It doesn’t cost a penny.)
If you have a name like Atthill, Bramston, or Conyngham, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your ancestors were probably doing alright and your descendants probably will too. That’s because a 2014 study published in the journal Human Nature found that the social status of your forefathers has an influence on the family's success and fortune that lasts generations.
Basically, social mobility is incredibly (and depressingly) slow. This might be good news if you are the heir of a Rothschild. Less so for almost everyone else.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the London School of Economics (another British-American partnership) came to this conclusion after combing through records and genealogical documents to trace the social status of families with rare surnames over the past 28 generations in England. The team took names from the Oxford and Cambridge attendance records between 1170 and 2012, the national probate registry since 1858, and a list of rich property owners between 1236 and 1299.
It takes around 300 years (10 to 15 generations) for a family to rise (or fall) a social class. Strangely, the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of education, and the creation of a welfare state (in Britain) has done frustratingly little to change this. That means it would take the same amount of time for a descendant of a 19th-century aristocrat to be of average wealth as it would for a descendant of a Medieval carpenter to rise to the ranks of the middle classes.
“Strong forces of familial culture, social connections, and genetics must connect the generations,” Gregory Clark from the University of California, Davis, said in a statement at the time.
What about the US? Well, as Ancestry.com points out, the States is too young to say for sure but if the legacies of families like the Kennedys and Vanderbilts are anything to go by, the rate of social mobility in the New World is likely similar to that in the Old World.