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The Worries and Concerns of the Super Rich

This article was written by in Wealth and Affluence. 19 comments.


A Boston College study recently looked at the community of the “super rich,” defined in this case as households with a net worth above $25 million. The purpose was to determine whether wealth, or more specifically, absolute financial security, resulted in fulfillment. There have been numerous studies on wealth and happiness, and often, the results are contradictory. This study set out with the goal to survey 1,000 individuals whose household net worth exceeds the aforementioned minimum with open-ended questions. The researchers were able to collect only 120 responses, so the sample might not be representative. The resulting information, however, did speak to the level of fulfillment among this crowd.

The survey shows that people have a craving for financial security, perhaps an inborn drive like other factors needed to survive like the desire for food. While we may stop eating when we are sated, by looking at the environment that changes with growing wealth, we may never feel we reach full financial security.

The survey also identifies differences between people who have inherited their wealth, those who have earned their wealth, and those who suddenly became rich due to, for the most part, luck. For the latter two categories, gained wealth often brings upon a change in social environment — some friends disappear while some new friends enter the picture. For this reason, many wealthy often keep their success a secret. The onset of wealth could make you wary of your intimate relationships, and make you question whether your partner loves you or your money.

Possibly worst of all the psychological issues wealth brings, wealthy people know that their issues are “rich people’s problems,” and as a result, believe that they shouldn’t be complaining publicly. For example, the super rich could be anxious when the holidays arrive, because no gift they could present to someone will live up to expectations of an appropriate gift from a wealthy individual. It’s dangerous to internalize these feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration.

Most of the wealthy individuals surveyed in this study are concerned about their children. While they are pleased that they don’t have to worry about affording education, they fear that their children will grow with a sense of entitlement if they are fully provided for, or will grow with a sense of resentment if wealth is held back in an attempt to teach them responsibility and the value of earning one’s way through life.

Every individual exists in a unique situation. Though it’s possible to generalize all the problems one might have based on the level of that individual’s wealth, we shouldn’t write off someone’s deepest concerns because they are different than other people’s concerns or because we feel they should be happy with what they have. It might be difficult to feel compassion towards someone who seems to have all the luxuries a non-wealthy family would want, but I don’t think psychological isolation is good for anyone. It also helps to remember that even though you might not be super rich in terms of this study, even a small income of $26,000 in the United States puts you well above 90% of the world’s population. We all have “rich people problems.”

The Atlantic

Published or updated March 9, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bogey

I have a few customers in this over $25MM net worth bucket, and several in the over $10MM bucket. To me, they don’t seem much different than most everyone else. Sure, they don’t worry about having enough money to put food on the table, but they do worry an inordinate amount about protecting their wealth, how to continue to grow it, taxes, etc.

I think no matter how wealthy you are, you still have to get up each day and face life. Very few people are wealthy enough to live like absolute rockstars every single day. Not only that, but some of my customers that have gotten very wealthy did so very slowly, so they are used to living a fairly “normal” lifestyle. It’s tough for them make any big changes that involve spending much more.

I find more often than not my customers are focused on passing as much wealth as possible onto their children. I also have several customers who are the children are former wealthy customers. These people, by far, are my least favorite to work with. They never experienced the “lean years”, and for some reason, they are often to smug about being wealthy, even though it was their parents who earned it all, not them. I guess it’s cooler to be rich when you are young.

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avatar Apex

Do you have any children of the wealthy who you think turned out better than the ones you describe and if so do you have any insights into why they did not turn into the typical spoiled, born with a silver spoon in your mouth heir?

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avatar Bogey

Apex – I’d say the kids who are involved in the business at an early are, and who develop an appreciation for the hard work that goes into the business prior to receiving the inheritance are usually the most well adjusted.

The best situations are the ones where the children work side by side with the parents for 10 to 20 years.

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avatar Apex

Thanks Bogey,

That information is helpful and makes sense too.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

good column, flexo.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

That last point you make is a very valid one. The amount of wealth in the US prevents the vast majority of people living here from living in real poverty that exists around the world. Great points.

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avatar Investor Junkie

It’s also, to a degree, the social programs we have in place.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

I definitely agree with that. The US has a lot going for it in terms of public and private charitable social programs. We should not forget that.

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avatar Nicholas

Solid article. The final point that “we all have rich people problems” is very true, we are spoiled in the developed world.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

They have problems too. They still suffer depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease. They lose loved ones. The big problems are ones that money can’t solve.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Good column, Flexo. Life has a way of leveling the playing field (i.e. cancer, death, sick children, etc.) for everyone, regardless of how much money we have or don’t have.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

I agree that as a citizen of the United States we are kinda spoiled. Even those who are considered to be living in poverty in this country are much better off than those living is poverty in third world countries. I work with a population that is primarily living under the poverty level in NJ. My co-worker who is from Ecuador told me one day that those living in poverty here have it made compared to those who live in his native country. Like Investor Junkie stated above, it has a lot to do with the social programs which we have in place here. It is amazing how many resources there are for those living in poverty where I work (Newark, NJ), too bad a lot of them don’t take advantage of them.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

While part of me wants to say something sarcastically, I know that I’m much better off (even with all of my student loan debt and I’m apparently lucky in how small that is compared to a lot of people I know). There are some people who are born into it and get to go to the upscale school and have the luxury goods but somewhere, way back when, somebody worked hard for the money and their descendants made sure not to squander their inheritance.

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avatar nimrodel ♦42 (Newbie)

I think some of the problems that the rich face are things to be worried about. One paragraph mentions “The onset of wealth could make you wary of your intimate relationships, and make you question whether your partner loves you or your money.” That’s a perfectly legitimate concern, because there are people out there who will only show interest on someone for their money.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

Great article. All people have problems. They may be a different set of problems but we all have something that concerns us.

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avatar Debt Donkey

This article brings to mind the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, in which Solomon explored the the life of wealth and had everything he could possibly desire, only to find a whole new set of problems. Ultimately he did not find fulfillment…which is the lesson of the book, that true happiness is not found in material pursuits. I guess we’d all like to try having that set of rich-people “problems,” but we’re bound to have setbacks and worries no matter what our position in life. Good post. Thanks!

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i agree with what just about everyone else said. everyone has problems, no matter the state of their finanical picture. that said, i feel a lot of the “rich people problems” are in some just created, AFTER they have secured what most of the people on this planet are trying to achieve. food. shelter. security…etc..i am not looking to diminish those problems, as they are real concerns, but i know i would rather have the worry of protecting a large sum of money than having to think about working for the next 50 years, student loan debt, my health (with regards to cost), looking after my parents.. and the like.

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avatar gotr31 ♦224 (Cent)

Nice article, I liked the reminder at the end that we all have rich people problems. l know plenty of middle class and even lower income people who’s kids are growing up with a sense of entitlement. We are all pretty spoiled in this country compared to most of the rest of the world.

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avatar 4hendricks ♦248 (Cent)

When I worked in finance, my wealthiest clients were the folks who looked the most middle class. My poorest clients looked like they were rolling in it. I agree with gotr31 – most people today have a huge sense of entitlement.

I cannot relate to those who have super rich problems. Give the money to those who have nothing, then you will have nothing to worry about.

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