Power Players

Nearly 68% of the world's richest people are 'self-made,' says new report

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves a meeting with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in his office on Capitol Hill on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Samuel Corum | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The vast majority of people who have a lot of money made it themselves, according to a new report released Wednesday from Wealth-X.

The market research firm analyzed the state of the world's ultra-wealthy population — or those with a net worth of $30 million or more. The report, which is based on 2018 data, "showed muted growth" in the number of ultra-wealthy people that year, "rising by 0.8% to 265,490 individuals," says Wealth-X.

Of those folks, 67.7% were self-made, while 23.7% had a combination of inherited and self-created wealth. Only 8.5% of global high-net-worth individuals were categorized as having completely inherited their wealth.

The predominance of self-made wealth over inherited wealth is broadly catalyzed by new opportunities in technology and in emerging economies of the past decade, says Wealth-X.

According to previous data from Wealth-X, 67.4% of the ultra high-net-worth individuals in 2017 were self-made, 21.7% were a combination of self-made, and inherited and 10.9% inherited their wealth. In 2016, 66.4% were self-made, 21.9% were a combination of self-made and inherited, and 11.7% inherited their wealth.

The collective total of the ultra-high-net-worth people in the world is $32.3 trillion, the data showed — and while that money is being made across any number of industries, the primary industry focus for nearly a quarter of them is Banking and Finance (22.9%). The second most prominent industry is Consumer and Business Services (8.5%), and the third most prevalent is Real Estate (7.6%).

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While the report shines a light on the importance of entrepreneurship in generating wealth, there are many who bristle at the very notion of "self-made."

"No moral intuition is more hard-wired into Americans' concept of economic justice than equality of opportunity. The reason Americans tolerate higher levels of income inequality is because of our faith that we all have a fair chance at achieving the American Dream or becoming the next Bill Gates," Steven Pearlstein, an economics columnist at The Washington Post and professor of public affairs at George Mason University, wrote in a 2018 piece.

But in fact, many factors contribute to the potential of an individual to be a breakout slugger in a society based on capitalism.

"As our society has become more meritocratic, we've simply replaced an aristocracy based on title, class, race and gender with a new and equally persistent aristocracy based on genes, education and parenting," Pearlstein continued. "Unless we are prepared to engage in extensive genetic reengineering, or require that all children be brought up in state-run boarding schools, we must acknowledge that we can never achieve full equality of opportunity."

For example, Jason Ford, a millionaire entrepreneur and investor, wrote in a post on Medium that even though he's often viewed as a poster-child for the "self-made" narrative, his success was contingent on his own privilege.

"I didn't inherit my wealth. I created it," Ford said on PBS News Hour in 2017. "But look a little deeper, and it turns out that version of my success story is a lie. Yes, my family background is rather humble. Both of my parents were teachers. I grew up in hand-me-down clothes from our neighbors."

Ford does not disavow his own hard work, but instead says there is much more to the story of his own success, including, for example, his access to education and his being a white man.

"Just as not everyone is qualified to be an astronaut, it takes a special kind of person to be an entrepreneur," he added. "You need discipline, intelligence, extreme dedication. But the best astronaut in the world can't fly to the moon unless someone gives them the rocket."

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