What is Old Money?

Old Money is a term used to describe families who have been wealthy for several generations, typically over a century or more in the United States. These families have accumulated significant wealth through inheritances, successful businesses, and investments, and have maintained their financial status over time. Unlike new money, which is earned through entrepreneurship or sudden windfalls, Old Money refers to wealth that has been passed down through generations, providing the family members with stability.

The concept of Old Money is often associated with a particular lifestyle and values, including a focus on education, culture, and tradition. Old Money families often prioritize the preservation of their wealth and legacy, and they tend to place a high worth on privacy and discretion. As a result, Old Money style and culture is often more understated and refined than that of new money, emphasizing quality, heritage, and timelessness over trends and ostentation.

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The Great Gatsby

One of the first examples of old money that Americans are exposed to is the classic work of literature, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the novel, old money refers to the New York families who have been affluent for generations and who have inherited their excessive wealth, Long Island properties, and social class from their ancestors. These families are often considered to be part of the established elite, with a long history of wealth, power, and social influence.

They are contrasted with the inner city new money, which refers to people who have recently acquired their wealth through business or other means, and who may not have the same level of social status or acceptance as old money families.

In the novel, characters such as Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who come from old money, are depicted as having a sense of entitlement and superiority over others, based solely on their generational wealth, affluence, and social status. They are seen as living a life of leisure, with little concern for the consequences of their actions or the impact they have on others.

This is in contrast to characters such as Jay Gatsby, who comes from new money and is striving to achieve the same coveted upper-class social status as the region’s old-money families. He yearns to be truly accepted by them.

Old money in “The Great Gatsby” represents the traditional values and social hierarchy of the wealthy elite, while new money represents the changing nature of American society and the desire for upward social mobility.

New Money vs Old Money

The concepts of “old money” and “new money” originated in America, a country that allowed for social mobility, even if the world’s oldest aristocratic families were first found in Europe. In the old continent, there are some differences in how “old money” is perceived and defined.

Old money in Europe typically refers to families that have maintained their wealth and social standing for 7 generations, often through inherited titles, land ownership, and business interests. These families are the epitome of aristocracy and nobility, and their wealth is often tied to their land and estates. They tend to be more conservative in their values and lifestyle, and their social circles are often limited to other families with similar backgrounds and status.

New money in the US and Europe, called “nouveau riche” in France, on the other hand, refers to people who have attained their wealth from business or entrepreneurship, often in industries such as technology, finance, or real estate. They are generally seen as more dynamic and innovative, and their lifestyle tends to be more open and global.

However, they may face challenges in gaining acceptance and respect from the old money families, who may view them as lacking the social pedigree and refinement of the traditional aristocracy.

Famous Families with Old Money

There are many families around the world that are commonly associated with old money due to their wealth and long-standing social status. Here are some examples of prominent families with old money:

Rothschild Family

The Rothschild banking family from Europe has been one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the world for centuries. Their fortune began in the late 18th century with Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744–1812), who founded the family’s banking business in Frankfurt, Germany. He famously sent his 5 sons to different countries to expand the family’s empire.

Rockefeller Family

Rockefeller family: This family made their money in the oil industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their wealth has since diversified into various industries. The family is known for its philanthropy, and their name is highly associated with affluence, wealth, and power in the United States.

Du Pont Family

Du Pont family: This American family made their wealth in the chemical industry in the first half of the 20th century. They are known for their philanthropy, and their name is synonymous with generational wealth and influence in the United States.

Astor Family

Astor family: This American family amassed significant wealth in real estate and fur trading in the 19th century, and the Astor name is strongly reminiscent of old money and aristocracy in the United States. The family has been prominent in American society for several generations.

Vanderbilt Family

The Vanderbilt family is another prominent family with old money in the United States. The family’s fortune began with Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in shipping and railroads in the 19th century. He was among the richest men in American history and was known as the “Commodore” for his success in the shipping industry.

Cornelius Vanderbilt’s descendants continued to build on his fortune, with some becoming involved in business, finance, and politics. The family was known for its lavish lifestyles and extravagant spending, and their name became synonymous with wealth and luxury in the United States.

Some notable members of the Vanderbilt family include:

  • Gloria Vanderbilt, a fashion designer and socialite who was also the mother of CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper.
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who built a luxurious mansion in New York City known as the Vanderbilt Mansion.
  • Anderson Cooper, who is a prominent journalist and television personality.

The Vanderbilt family has played a significant role in American history and culture, and their legacy continues to be felt in diverse areas of business and society today.

These families are just a few examples of the many old money families in the world who made their money several generations ago.

Old Families with New Money

There are certain families that many people consider to be “old money,” but in fact, they aren’t. Families who earned their wealth in the early 20th century are still technically considered new money as the family hasn’t preserved their wealth for long enough to be considered old money truly. 

The most prominent example of an old family with new money is the Kennedy family. This American political family is known for its wealth, influence, and public service. The family’s fortune began in the early 20th century with Joseph Kennedy, who made his fortune in finance and investments. Several members of the family have held prominent political positions, including President John F. Kennedy.

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Old Money Last Names

There are many last names that are commonly known as “old money” because of the members’ long-standing generational wealth and high social status. Here are some examples of old money last names:

  • Rockefeller
  • Vanderbilt
  • Astor
  • Rothschild
  • Du Pont
  • Carnegie
  • Mellon
  • Hearst
  • Whitney
  • Ford

These families have amassed significant wealth and upper-class social status over several generations, and their names have become synonymous with wealth, power, and influence in different industries and areas of society. While these are some of the most well-known old money last names, there are many other families around the world who earned their assets and prominence generations ago and whose names are associated with old money in those local communities.

Old Money Rules

People with old money typically hold certain values, practice certain mannerisms and adhere to specific behaviors that have been ingrained through the generations of their families. While there is no single set of rules or guidelines that define old money, there are certain principles that are commonly practiced by people with generational wealth. Here are some of the “golden rules” of old money behavior:

  1. Hide your wealth: Old money families are known for their frugality and their tendency to live modestly, despite their wealth. They believe in spending money wisely and avoiding unnecessary extravagance.
  2. Value education and knowledge: Old money families highly value education and intellectual pursuits. They believe that knowledge is the true key to success and that education is an essential investment in the future.
  3. Maintain social connections: Old money families often have long-standing social connections and value maintaining these relationships over time. They believe that networking and building relationships are important for success and personal growth.
  4. Give back to the community: Many old money families have a tradition of philanthropy and giving back to their communities. They believe that wealth comes with a responsibility to help others and make a positive impact on society.
  5. Respect tradition and history: Old money families often possess a strong sense of tradition and history, and they value maintaining the customs and values of their ancestors. They believe that preserving the past is important for understanding the present and shaping the future.

The cardinal rules of old money reflect values and behaviors that prioritize responsibility, knowledge, and community over excess and indulgence. While these principles may not be universal across all old money families, they are often seen as defining characteristics of this concept.

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