Apart from providing the ability to purchase goods to the one who has some of it, quite a bit. My focus here is more on what effect do economic relations have on social ones.
In a feudal society, where caste is dominant, economic and social relations are quite different. The closest economic relations a land-owner has is with the lower caste workers in his fields. Same with other castes and occupations. However, social relations are usually intra-caste, be it in celebrating festivals or finding a suitable bride/bridegroom. Though the picture is definitely not as simple as described here, (land owners are socially obliged to support an servant during times of need) but definitely not a very bad one either.
Coming to contemporary society, the stratification is somewhat more porous and many examples of a conflation of the two types of relations are seen. Best examples are those of office romances. If not for the monetary benefit that brings people to a common workplace, such relations would have never happened. HR managers portray companies as ‘one big family’, which is a bare-faced attempt to replace kinship relations with economic ones. Before further discussion, it is worth characterizing both kinds of relations.
Primary social relations are usually an end in themselves (intrinsic value), based on emotions and therefore quite strong (since emotions are very strong in humans), and tend to last long (in terms of generations). Economic relations are more the secondary type, having an importance proportional to utility (consequential value), based on rationality and therefore weak (humans are rational? From when?) and tend to last as long the the utility of the relationship lasts. Primary social relations assume no acceptable behavior patterns (a son who is a killer is still a son) whereas secondary relations do expect certain kinds of behavior. Therefore, when entering a secondary relation like an economic relation, a person is expected to behave in a certain way for things to go on smoothly. The norms that govern behavior may be implicit, but they certainly exist.
With this background in mind, a more fruitful analysis of economic-to-social relation shift can be made. One thing is certain: humans are inherently crazy. They get depressed, have deep seated phobias and philias, feel guilt and shame and anger, and generally defy rational explanation. (This is to be taken as a limitation of rationality rather than defects in humans.) Thus, when a person enters an economic relation, she is expected to conduct herself in a rational, predictable manner. Therefore, more often than not, one sees a very small part of a person’s personality when engaged in a secondary relationship. Sure, people get angry and break down at work, but this is the exception to the rule. Only in a primary social relationship will the true craziness of a person come forth. That is why, in my opinion, taking an office romance ‘to the next level’ usually does not work out. Once the bond becomes more and more emotional, things like jealousy and possesiveness appear. A person who is used to seeing the ‘rational’ side of their partner will find it difficult to accept such behavior. ‘You were so different in college’, ‘It was not always like this, you know’ – these are quotes that you will hear in such contexts.
Americans, ever the pioneers in handling wierd situations make sure that pre-nuptial agreements are in place to cater for such exigencies. Little wonder that divorce rates in the USA are close to 50%. Bangalore, which is a place where economic relations are increasingly determining social relations, the same issues are cropping up. Financial freedom is being attributed as one of the causes of increasing divorce rates, which simply drives home the underlying economic tinge to these relations. While economic independence to women is to be highly encouraged, and helps many escape from abusive marriages, saying financial independence increases divorce rates simply says that the marriage was more utilitarian in nature than with intrinsic value to the participants.
Companies nowadays, with the HR development mantra, are making sure that this trend will become more pronounced. Instead of advising employees to spend more time at home with family, a practical view that they take is of accepting that employees will spend more time with their colleagues than at home, and hence make the workplace a second family. Thus, it is not uncommon to see people spending ten times more time with co-workers than with kith and kin and spouse. Whatever value a primary relationship has is dependent on face to face interactions, and this becomes nil in such situations. Marriage has additional functions of sexual satisfaction and taking care of the young, which are also neglected. Considering such factors, it is unsurprising that divorce rates and broken families are on the rise in places which encourage more and more economic engagement in lieu of kinship relations.
Solutions? one cannot ignore work. one cannot ignore family and friends either (family more important here). One must understand the needs of both kinds of relationships and strike a balance that is suitable in a given personal context. Saying that one takes care of one’s family well because the family goes on a trip every year and all family members’ monetary needs are fulfilled is confusing one kind of relationship with another. If the only reason your family loves you is because of the above reasons, then you have serious issues to address!