This paper offers a fresh perspective on the connection between professional work and socio-economic inequality by tracing the emergence of the trust and estate planning profession in America. Unlike studies of inequality and the professions that focus on the status attainment of individuals and their families, or on labor market segregation, this paper explores professional work as a means of creating and reproducing larger systems of socio-economic stratification. Trust and estate planners contribute to macrolevel inequality by helping wealthy clients accumulate large fortunes and pass them on to their descendants; this, in turn, has shaped the status and composition of other professions. As sources of economic power have changed – moving from land and factories to more fungible forms – the need for legal, organizational and financial strategies to protect assets from taxation, creditors, and spendthrift heirs intensified, catalyzing the transformation of trust and estate planners from amateurs to professionals. Thus, trust and estate planners are both products and producers of the changing worlds of work and wealth. To shed light on these transformations, this paper will draw on the literatures of sociology, economics and anthropology, focusing on these professionals’ three critical roles – as investors, administrators, and guardians of wealth – in reproducing systems of stratification.
- wealth; professions; inequality