Just before the American Revolution, most of this nation's wealth was held by landowners. More than half the land was owned by people who either were born in England or were born in America of English parents. Is more than half of this nation's wealth now of English origin? No. One of the major myths concerning wealth in this country relates to ethnic origin. Too many people think that America's affluent population is composed predominantly of direct descendants of the Mayflower voyagers.
Let's examine this assumption objectively. What if "country of origin" were the major factor in explaining variation in wealth? We would expect that more than half of America's millionaire population would be of English ancestry. This is not the case (see Table 1-1). In our most recent national survey of millionaires, we asked the respondents to designate their country of origin/ancestry/ethnic origin. The results may surprise you.
Those designating "English" as their ethnic origin accounted for 21.1 percent of the millionaire population. People of English origin account for 10.3 percent of the United States household population in general. Thus, American millionaires of English origin are more prevalent than expected, given their numbers in the entire U.S. population (10.3 percent versus 21.1 percent). In other words, this group has a millionaire concentration ratio of 2.06 (21.1 percent of all millionaire households divided by 10.3 percent of all households headed by persons of English origin), meaning that people of English origin are about twice as likely to head households in the millionaire category than would be expected from their portion of all households in America.
And yet, what percentage of the English ancestry group in America is in the millionaire category? Would you expect the English group to rank first? In fact, it ranks fourth. According to our research, 7.71 percent of all households in the English category have a net worth of $1 million or more. Three other ancestry groups have significantly higher concentrations of millionaires.
How can it be possible that the English ancestry group does not have the highest concentration of millionaire households? After all, they were among the first Europeans to arrive in the New World. They were on the ground floor to take economic advantage in this land of opportunity. In 1790 Colonial America, more than two-thirds of households were headed by a self-employed person. In America, the achievements of the current generation are more a factor in explaining wealth accumulation than what has taken place in the past. Again, most American millionaires today (about 80 percent) are first-generation rich. Typically, the fortunes built by these people will be completely dissipated by the second or third generation. The American economy is a fluid one. There are many people today who are on their way to becoming wealthy. And there are many others who are spending their way out of the affluent category.
WINNING ANCESTRY GROUPS
If the English ancestry group does not have the highest concentration of millionaire households, then which group does? The Russian ancestry group ranks first, the Scottish ranks second, and the Hungarian ranks third. Although the Russian ancestry group accounts for only about 1.1 percent of all households in America, it accounts for 6.4 percent of all millionaire households. We estimate that approximately 22 of every 100 households headed by someone of Russian ancestry has a net worth of $1 million or more. This is in sharp contrast to the English ancestry group, in which only 7.71 in 100 of its members are in the millionaire league. How much wealth does this Russian American millionaire group have in total? We estimate approximately $1.1 trillion, or nearly 5 percent of all the personal wealth in America today!
How can one explain the economic productivity of Russian Americans? In general, most American millionaires are manager-owners of businesses. Russians in disproportionate numbers are manager-owners of businesses. Further, this entrepreneurial spirit seems to translate from one generation of Russians to the next.
The Hungarian ancestry group also is entrepreneurially inclined. This group accounts for only 0.5 percent of all households in this country. Yet it makes up 2 percent of the millionaire households. Contrast this with the German ancestry group, which accounts for nearly one in five households (19.5 percent) in this country. Only 17.3 percent of all millionaire households are headed by persons of German ancestry, and only about 3.3 percent of German households are in the millionaire league.
The Scottish ancestry group makes up only 1.7 percent of all households. But it accounts for 9.3 percent of the millionaire households in America. Thus, in terms of concentration, the Scottish ancestry group is more than five times (5.47) more likely to contain millionaire households than would be expected from its overall portion (1.7 percent) of American households.
The Scottish ancestry group ranks second in terms of the percentage of its clan that are in the millionaire league. Nearly twenty-one (20.
in 100 of its households are millionaires. What explains the Scottish ancestry group's high ranking? It is true that many Scots were early immigrants to America. But this is not the major reason for their economic productivity. Remember that the English were among the earliest immigrants, yet their concentration numbers are far lower than those of the Scots. Also consider that the Scots did not enjoy the same solid economic status that the English enjoyed during the years the nation was in its infancy. Given these facts, one would think that the English ancestry group would account for a higher concentration of millionaire households than those in the Scottish group. But just the opposite is the case. Again, the Scottish ancestry group has a concentration level nearly three times that of the English group (5.47 versus 2.06). What then makes the Scottish ancestry group unique?
If an ancestry group has a high concentration of millionaires, what would we expect the income characteristics of that group to be? The expectation is that the group would have an equally high concentration of high-income producers. Income is highly correlated with net worth; more than two-thirds of the millionaires in America have annual household incomes of $100,000 or more. In fact, this correlation exists for all major ancestry groups but one: the Scottish. This group has a much higher number of high-net worth households than can be explained by the presence of high-income-producing households alone. High-income-producing Scottish-ancestry households account for less than 2 percent of all high-income households in America. But remember that the Scottish ancestry group accounts for 9.3 percent of the millionaire households in America today. More than 60 percent of Scottish-ancestry millionaires have annual household incomes of less than $100,000. No other ancestry group has such a high concentration of millionaires from such a small concentration of high-income-producing households.
If income does not come near in explaining the affluence of the Scottish ancestry group in America, what factors do shed light on this phenomenon? There are several fundamental factors.
First, Scottish Americans tend to be frugal. Given a household's income, there is a corresponding mathematical expectation of level of consumption. Members of this group do not fit such expectations. On average, they live well below the norm for people in various income categories. They often live in self-designed environments of relative scarcity. A household of Scottish ancestry with an annual income of $100,000 will often consume at a level typical for an American household with an annual income of $85,000. Being frugal allows them to save more and invest more than others in similar income groups. Thus the same $100,000 income-producing household of Scottish descent saves and invests at a level comparable to the typical American household that annually earns nearly $150,000.
In the chapters that follow, we reveal the highest prices typical millionaires reported paying for suits, shoes, watches, and motor vehicles. A significantly greater number of millionaires with Scottish ancestry reported paying less for each item than the norm for all millionaires in the sample. For example, more than two-thirds (67.3 percent) of Scottish millionaires paid less for their most expensive motor vehicle than the norm for all millionaires surveyed.
Because they accumulate wealth, the Scottish-ancestry affluent have wealth to pass on to their offspring. Our research reveals that Scottish offspring typically become economically and emotionally independent even as young adults. Thus, they tend not to drain their parents' wealth.
Members of the Scottish-ancestry group have been able to instill their values of thrift, discipline, economic achievement, and financial independence in successive generations. These values are also typical traits among most self-made millionaires.
Often small-population groups are underrepresented in studies of the affluent. Yet many contain high concentrations of wealthy households. What small groups in particular? We estimate that all of the fifteen small-population ancestry groups shown in Table 1-2 have at least twice the proportion of millionaires than the proportion for all U.S. households. Only about 3.5 percent of all U.S. households are in the million-dollar net worth league. All the groups listed in Table 1-2 are estimated to contain at least twice this proportion. (In total, all fifteen account for less than 1 percent of all affluent households.) In fact, there is compelling evidence of an inverse relationship between the size of an ancestry group and the proportion of its members that are wealthy. In other words, larger ancestry groups contain smaller proportions of millionaires on average than smaller groups.
What about the number of years that an average member of an ancestry group has been in America? The longer the time here, the less likely it will produce a disproportionately large percentage of millionaires. Why is this the case? Because we are a consumption-based society. In general, the longer the average member of an ancestry group has been in America, the more likely he or she will become fully socialized to our high-consumption lifestyle. There is another reason. First-generation Americans tend to be self-employed. Self-employment is a major positive correlate of wealth.
This is not to suggest that self-employment and/or being first-generation American ensures membership among the ranks of millionaires. Most self-employed Americans will never accumulate even modest levels of wealth. The same is true for most first-generation Americans. But twenty-three million people in this country today were born elsewhere. That is a large gene pool. Note also that 12 percent of INC. magazine's top five hundred business entrepreneurs are first-generation American.
One might expect that the sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters of these people would automatically become even more successful economically than they. Not really. We will discuss intergenerational transfers in more detail in Chapters 5 and 6, but allow us at this juncture to explain why the "next generation" is often less productive economically than the last.
VICTOR AND HIS CHILDREN
Take the case of Victor, a successful entrepreneur who is first-generation American. Entrepreneurs like him have typically been characterized by their thrift, low status, discipline, low consumption, risk, and very hard work. But after these genetic wonders become financial successes, then what? What do they teach their children? Do they encourage them to follow Dad's lead? Do their children also become roofing contractors, excavation contractors, scrap metal dealers, and so on? The chances are they don't. Fewer than one in five do.
No, Victor wants his children to have a better life. He encourages them to spend many years in college. Victor wants his children to become physicians, lawyers, accountants, executives, and so on. But in so encouraging them, Victor essentially discourages his children from becoming entrepreneurs. He unknowingly encourages them to postpone their entry into the labor market. And, of course, he encourages them to reject his lifestyle of thrift and a self-imposed environment of scarcity.
Victor wants his children to have a better life. But what exactly does Victor mean when he says that? He means that his children should be well educated and have a much higher occupational status than he did. Also, "better" means better artifacts: fine homes, new luxury automobiles, quality clothing, club membership. But Victor has neglected to include in this definition of better many of the elements that were the foundation stones of his success. He does not realize that being well educated has certain economic drawbacks.
Victor's well-educated adult children have learned that a high level of consumption is expected of people who spend many years in college and professional schools. Today his children are under accumulators of wealth. They are the opposite of their father, the blue-collar, successful business owner. His children have become Americanized. They are part of the high-consuming, employment-postponing generation.
How many generations does it take for an ancestry group that today contains thousands of Victors to become Americanized? Only a few. Most move into the "American normal" range within one or two generations. This is why America needs a constant flow of immigrants with the courage and tenacity of Victor. These immigrants and their immediate offspring are constantly needed to replace the Victors of America.
THE AUTHORS AND TODDY AND ALEX
Several years ago we were asked to conduct a study of the affluent in America. We were hired by Toddy, a corporate vice president of a subsidiary of a large corporation. Toddy's ancestors were English. His forefathers were in America before the Revolutionary War. More recently, they owned steel mills in Pennsylvania. Toddy, their direct descendant, attended an exclusive prep school in New England. Later he graduated from Princeton University. While in college, he played varsity football.
Toddy, like many people in this country, had always believed that wealthy people inherited their fortunes. Toddy also believed that most wealthy people had English roots. So what happened to Toddy's long-held opinions after he joined us out in the survey field, meeting America's millionaires? Most of the millionaire respondents Toddy met were first-generation affluent. And most were not of English origin. Most of them attended public schools; they drove American-made automobiles; they preferred club sandwiches to caviar. And, unlike Toddy, most were frugal.
Toddy's education was enhanced by another event. During the course of our assignment, an entrepreneur named Alex approached Toddy and the other senior officers of the corporation. Alex wanted to buy the firm that employed Toddy. Who was this Alex fellow, anyway? His father had immigrated to this country from Russia before Alex was born. His dad was a small business owner. Alex had graduated from a state university. "How could it be possible," Toddy asked, "that this fellow wants to, and has the resources to, buy the company?" Alex's dad answered the question quite succinctly:
Russians--they are the best horse traders.
Alex is a self-made multimillionaire. His is the prototypical American success story. Conversely, Toddy and others like him are an endangered species. Someday, they may even be extinct. This is especially true for those who spend a lot of time reminiscing about how their late ancestors founded steel mills, railroads, and pony express services long, long ago.
FNT[(*) Our profile of the typical millionaire is based on studies of millionaire households, not individuals. It is, therefore, impossible in most cases to say with certainly whether our typical millionaire is a he or a she. Nevertheless, because 95 percent of millionaire households are composed of married couples, and because in 70 percent of these cases the male head of the household contributes at least 80 percent of the income, we will usually refer to the typical American millionaire as "he" in this book.]FNT
(C) 1996 Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko All rights reserved. ISBN: 1-56352-330-2