Perceptions of Prosperity [Study]
51% of Americans believe they're on track to becoming rich.
Most Americans think they will one day be rich. Do you feel that you are on the same path?
Just what is considered wealthy, anyway? Do you have a specific number in mind? Or is wealth tied into other descriptors for you, like being famous or infamous or a titan of industry?
We wanted to know how varied these perspectives can be, so we surveyed 1,000 people from a cross-section of generations, income brackets, and locations. Here's what we found.
- Of the Americans who believed the rich are investing in cryptocurrency, nearly 7 out of 10 believed they are investing in bitcoin, and 8 out of 10 believed they're investing in the metaverse.
- Respondents perceive the average cost of a rich person's home to be just under $2 million.
- Americans who believe they’re on track to becoming rich have debt roughly a third or more the size of their annual income.
When it comes to determining what being rich means, most people, to some extent, think of how much money an individual accumulates. However, the amount they believe qualifies someone as wealthy can vary according to several factors - of which the most significant, perhaps, is age.
The generational divide on what it takes to be rich versus achieving financial happiness is surprising. Gen Z's estimation of what it would take to be considered rich was 38% of what baby boomers defined. Interestingly, Millennials' idea of what it meant to be rich exceeded that of their Gen X predecessors, falling more in line with that of baby boomer estimations.
However, when it came to the financial happiness column in the image of our findings above, all numbers were much lower than being rich, indicating a presiding belief that money can't buy happiness after a certain amount of wealth accumulation. Gen Z, in particular, felt this way, with an estimate that fell 80% below what they believed it would take to be considered rich.
Things got fascinating when members of each generation were asked to spell out what it meant to be rich concerning balances in checking and savings accounts relative to debt. All of the cohorts estimated combined checking and savings balances well above what it meant to be rich, with Gen Z almost tripling their standard for being rich.
Income and savings contribute to the accumulation of wealth. There was consensus among survey takers that accruing money offers the means to invest in a manner that grows wealth substantially.
The follow-up question is: in what assets do wealthy individuals invest in getting where they want to go? Our findings on this topic were revealing.
Though traditional investments topped the list of assets where the rich funnel their money, cryptocurrencies made more of a splash than they might have in years past, especially among Gen Z respondents. We assumed that this generation of "digital natives" was more familiar with the basic idea of cryptocurrencies, and they were more comfortable with digital transactions than folks from other generations.
Topping the list, however, was real estate. Though stocks might be the most commonly understood investment vehicle, real estate, with its high price tag, was likely viewed as a higher bar to clear than the average consumer could muster. High-profile real estate investments by celebrities probably bolster this perception.
Overall, though, diversification of portfolios was viewed as key. This general wisdom is nothing new and endures for a good reason.
No matter how the wealthy make money or exactly how much money one thinks the rich have, there is one undeniable truth: they acquire luxuries that many people do not. Tabloids cover ridiculous expenditures on things like jewel-encrusted toilet seats and exotic pets. Yet, general assumptions about how the wealthy spend money are not as eccentrically excessive as you might think.
One of the areas we covered in our study is the perception of what it is like in a rich person's house. We asked respondents to indicate what features they'd expect to find in a luxury home.
Though some respondents speculated that extravagant features like heated driveways and bowling alleys might be in the mix, many expectations were ordinary. The top answer of a pool, for instance, can be found at more than 10.4 million residential properties across the country, with 17% of Americans owning a pool.
Those surveyed assumed the cost of a rich person's home was $1.9 million, which is interesting given the current environment where an increasing number of American homes are valued at $1 million or more.
Stagnating incomes could make an impact on real estate prices. A state-by-state review of the data reveals that median incomes, almost across the board, are lower than the average income necessary to purchase a house. With housing costs predicted to surge in 2022 alongside rising interest rates, the market may be tighter than we currently perceive - even for those who score in the higher regional percentiles for net worth.
But what is the perception of where the rich go, and what do they do when away from home?
Some of the ranked activities are undeniably accessible only to the wealthy, including private flights, big-game hunting, etc. Many of the activities are likely rightly associated with wealth, primarily due to the high price of participation. The price tag is even higher when considering the total cost over time, as one would expect with horse riding or winemaking.
In other cases, though, the activities may be associated with wealth not because of price but because of cultural associations. Games like croquet, badminton, or golf are not necessarily inaccessible to individuals who would not qualify as wealthy (by the respondents' metrics). In some instances, the activity is simply less mainstream, like pickleball.
The Path to Prosperity
Opinions differ regarding what makes someone rich, whether the accrual of assets or having a particular lifestyle, but one thing remains constant: people want to believe that they are on the road to something better. The quest for wealth, however one defines it, is a driving force in American life.
When we asked respondents if they were on their way to being rich,
we found affirmative responses at every income level. Then, we isolated those who answered affirmatively and compared their income to debt ratios. An interesting story emerged.
Those making $50,000 or less had a lower debt to income ratio than those making between $51,000 and $70,000 - a cohort with the highest level of debt relative to income.
Even when accompanied by higher debt levels, those in the higher income brackets were optimistic.
Age might explain some of this. The average 35- to 44-year-old falls squarely within the $51,000 to $71,000 income range and expects to work 20 to 40 more years. Considering that many in this age range have likely already invested a fair amount and did not necessarily take a hit during the 2008 crash, their optimism is perhaps inevitable.
Age may also play a role in priorities. Older cohorts believe firmly that investing will yield the greatest return, while the youngest generation, who likely has yet to begin investing substantially, believes that setting goals are most important. Perhaps goal setting is the stepping stone to thinking that investing is most important.
Though there were variances across age and current income, the older generations - Baby Boomers and Gen Xers - prioritized love over wealth. We might attribute this sentiment to the desire for stability, partnership, and companionship as people age.
Generational differences were prevalent across all areas of inquiry. With an ever-shifting workforce and political currents continuously altering the landscape in which we work, play, and live, those differences are likely to become more pronounced as time goes on. The question now is how to bridge those differences as the years progress, giving everyone a better chance at achieving that tremendous big goal of becoming rich.
RubyHome is a luxury real estate brokerage based in Los Angeles and operates in several West Coast markets.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,000 Americans regarding their perceptions of the rich. The mean age of respondents was 41 years old. 51% of respondents were men, 48% were women, and 1% identified as nonbinary. Respondents comprised the following generational breakdowns: 24% Generation Z, 26% millennials, 26% Generation X, and 24% baby boomers.
To help ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, they were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question. Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory.
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