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Americans were asked what it takes to be rich. Here’s what they said.

Americans were asked what it takes to be rich. Here’s what they said.

Americans have a specific number in mind about how much it takes to be perceived as wealthy, and it’s a sizable chunk of change: an average of $2.2 million in assets.

That may seem like a pie-in-the-sky number, especially given that the median net worth of the typical family stood at about $122,000 in 2019, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

Yet the $2.2 million figure reflects a dip from a recent peak in 2020, when Americans said they’d need $2.6 million to be considered rich, according Charles Schwab. For seven consecutive years, the financial services firm has surveyed people about their views on wealth. This year’s survey polled 1,000 Americans between 21 and 75 years old about their views on money.

Important yardstick

Wealth can be an important yardstick because families with greater resources can tap their assets to buy a home, start a business, invest or help their children go to college — all steps that can, in turn, lead to more financial security. But the pandemic may have caused some Americans to reassess their views on money, with the result that some may have lowered their threshold for being rich, said Rob Williams, managing director at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. 


“My interpretation is that we are looking at what money will do for us a little bit more in terms of lifestyle rather than dollar amount,” Williams said. “We have all been through a lot of stress, and money is important, but increasingly, it’s about what money can do for us.”

The survey respondents were also more likely to say experiences and relationships made them feel wealthier than actual money. For instance, about 7 in 10 said having a healthy work-life balance made them feel richer than maximizing their earnings. 

About half of those surveyed said they already felt wealthy, even though their average net worth is about $560,000, or about one-quarter of what the respondents said marks the threshold for being rich in America. That gap may seem like a “paradox,” but people are often aspirational when they think about wealth, Williams noted. 

“There is a disconnect, and that is part of being human,” he said.


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Retirement gap

That “disconnect” is also reflected in findings from a Northwestern Mutual study last year about the retirement gap, or the difference between what workers believe they need in their golden years and what they’ve actually saved.


Americans said they’ll need about $1.25 million to retire comfortably, but the typical U.S. retirement account holds less than $87,000, according to the study. 

“Some people might think, ‘If I get to $1 million I can retire,’ but it’s not very meaningful,” Williams noted. “It’s more meaningful to say, ‘When am I going to retire? Do I have money to buy a house, pay for a child’s college education?’”

He added, “Putting that in a plan and saying, ‘What dollar amount do I need when I retire to deliver the amount I need?’ is important.”

Millennials, Gen Z feel the richest

Younger generations were more likely to say they feel rich, with almost 6 in 10 millennials and 5 in 10 Gen Zers saying they felt wealthy. Baby boomers were the least likely to say they felt rich, with 4 in 10 agreeing with that statement, the study found. 

“We see a lot of boomers who are getting to retirement — and that’s the point when they are most worried because it’s finally come,” he said, noting that they are more likely after they’ve stopped working to feel anxious that they haven’t saved enough to support themselves. 


But with more years to save, younger Americans may feel more optimistic about their wealth — even though boomers, by far and away, have more wealth than any other generation. Boomers control about $73 trillion in wealth, compared with about $9 trillion for millennials, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

“Even wealthy people never feel wealthy enough when it comes to money,” Williams noted. “If you think about the dollar amount, it’s ‘more than I have now.’”

Published: 2023-06-13 13:01:00


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