When envisioning wealth, it’s hard not to conjure up images of the iconic Bill Gates. As it turns out, Gates serves as the prototype for the rich—a self-made male boomer entrepreneur. Coincidentally, he also happens to match the median age of global billionaires, standing at 67 years old. This fascinating insight comes from the Altrata’s 2023 Billionaire Census report, which delves into the finances, careers, education, and more of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, utilizing the Wealth-X Database for its findings.
The report reveals that billionaires under the age of 50 represent a mere 10% of the billionaire cohort, while those over 70 constitute a significant 40%. Women, unfortunately, remain underrepresented in the billionaires’ club, accounting for less than one-fifth of the cohort. However, they do enjoy slightly higher representation among the younger ultra-wealthy individuals. Like Gates, who once held the title of the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, a majority of billionaires are self-made, with the 50 to 70 age group comprising 64% of this exclusive club. However, unlike Gates, who amassed his fortunes in the tech industry, the majority of billionaires, particularly those aged 50 to 70, have made their wealth through banking and finance.
The prevalence of self-made men in their late 60s with a financial background as the most common billionaires is not surprising. Older individuals have had more time to accumulate wealth, and baby boomers, especially men, have enjoyed a longer and relatively smoother path to riches.
The report’s authors state, “While the vast majority of self-made billionaires will have launched their first venture at a relatively young age, it is rare for an individual to enter this exclusive wealth tier before their 40th birthday.” They also note that there has not been a significant redistribution of wealth in the past five years. If anything, the average age of billionaires has slightly increased during this period.
The authors further emphasize that unless one inherits wealth (which is twice as likely for billionaires under the age of 50 compared to their older counterparts), it takes a considerable amount of time to amass riches and reach billionaire status. After all, billionaires represent less than 1% of the ultra-wealthy demographic, yet they hold a staggering 34% of the total wealth within that demographic, according to Altrata’s data.
The inequities that contribute to billionaire status have not gone unnoticed, and some ultra-high-net-worth individuals themselves are pushing back. The Patriotic Millionaires, a group that includes individuals like Abigail Disney, advocate for taxing the rich. In the United States, home to the largest population of billionaires globally, this issue has become particularly contentious. The number of millionaires continues to rise while others struggle to stay afloat amidst a period of high inflation.
Building wealth has been a far smoother journey for baby boomers, who inherited more favorable circumstances than subsequent generations. Millennials and Gen Z have faced significant hurdles in their wealth-building endeavors, including burdensome student debt, stagnant wages, and poorly timed recessions. Achieving the American Dream has become increasingly challenging, especially in a difficult housing market where many believe that owning a home is an unattainable fantasy. While baby boomers have also experienced inflation and recessions, the economic landscape was akin to an “easy mode” game for their generation. They benefited from more affordable education, lower interest rates, and inflated housing prices, which facilitated asset accumulation.
Although millennials did experience some wealth gains during the pandemic, baby boomers still possessed nearly eight times more wealth—another triumph for billionaire boomers like Gates.
The Billionaire Census report sheds light on the demographics and factors contributing to billionaire status. It highlights the dominance of self-made male boomer entrepreneurs and the challenges faced by younger generations in their pursuit of wealth. As conversations surrounding wealth distribution and economic equity continue to gain momentum, these insights provide a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play in the realm of the ultra-wealthy.