No Need to Envy the Upper-Crusters When You Expect to Be One of Them

If the rich are different from you and me, perhaps it’s merely in their timing. A new Gallup poll finds nearly one-third of Americans think it’s likely they’ll be rich someday—10 percent saying it’s “very likely” and 21 percent “somewhat likely.” Just 30 percent said that happy outcome is “not at all likely,” with another 36 percent saying it’s “not very likely.” Two percent of the respondents said they’re already rich, thank you very much. One might expect the bad economy to dampen people’s tendency to think they’ll get rich. Oddly enough, that hasn’t happened. This year’s numbers are nearly identical to those of a 1996 poll; they’re a bit more optimistic than those of a 1990 survey. We can surmise that the I’ll-be-rich belief is more a fixed personality trait than a function of economic realities at any given time.

The expectation of wealth is most common among people who have the most money-making time ahead of them and who’ve spent the fewest years failing to get rich. Thus, 51 percent of the 18-29-year-olds think it’s very or somewhat likely they’ll end up rich. So do 36 percent of those in the 30-49 age bracket. That’s in addition to the 1 percent in this cohort who reported that they’re already rich. Even among the poll’s older-and-wiser 50-64s, 22 percent said they expect to get rich (beyond the 4 percent who’ve made it). And so did 8 percent of those over 65 (among whom 2 percent are already rich).

Gender was a dividing line in some age groups but not in others. Among the 18-29s, 58 percent of men and 43 percent of women said it’s very or somewhat likely they’ll be rich someday. In the 30-49 age bracket, where people are more apt to be married, the gap had narrowed considerably (40 percent of men, 33 percent of women). And for older cohorts, the gap was negligible.

Predictably, upper-income Americans are more likely than their low-income compatriots to think they’ll end up rich. Among respondents with household income topping $75,000, 51 percent believe it’s likely (in addition to the 3 percent who’ve already made it). The incidence of such optimism drops to 38 percent in the $50,000-75,000 income bracket and to 21 percent among those making $30,000-50,000. Even among those whose income is under $30,000, though, 21 percent think it’s likely they’ll be rich someday. In light of such numbers, it’s no wonder that class warfare attracts relatively few volunteers in this country. One caveat: The lowest income group tends to skew young, so the cheery responses there partly reflect yet-to-be-dashed optimism.

Finally, how much money would it take for people to classify themselves as rich? Not as much as you high-rolling agency folks might suppose. Regarding assets, respondents’ median figure was $1 million. For yearly income, the median number was $122,000.