The term "millionaire" once inferred that a person was part of society's upper crust, able to enjoy luxuries most only dreamed of, including vacation properties and early retirement. The Gilded Age of the 1980s was all about flaunting excess, as echoed in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and television series like Dallas and Dynasty. Back then one was perceived to be "rich" if he or she had an income of around $100,000, according to a USA Today article released on May 22, 1987.
How Many Millionaires Are There in the U.S.?
By 1989, American millionaires had become quite common: there were about 1.5 million of them. So how many millionaires are there today? According to Credit Suisse's 2019 Global Wealth Report, the U.S. has 18.6 million millionaires, out of the world's total of 46.8 million. In fact, from 2018 to 2019, the U.S. alone added 675,000 new millionaires to its total.
The number of millionaires in the U.S. in 2019, approximately 40% of the world's total.
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The Millionaire Outlook
However, being a millionaire today doesn't guarantee automatic happiness or well-being. Fidelity Investments recently released the findings of its Fidelity® Millionaire Outlook survey, which looks at investing attitudes and behaviors of more than 1,100 millionaire households. Overall, times are good for millionaires—81% of millionaires report being very satisfied with their lives. In fact, one in four millionaires reported that they are more satisfied with their lives than they were a year ago.
However, when asked about their future outlook regarding the state of the economy, millionaires in 2019 ranked the lowest confidence levels since 2006. So what's keeping millionaires up at night?
Fidelity's study revealed that "concerns about their health are the leading causes of stress for millionaires and non-millionaires alike." With the rising cost of healthcare, they reported being worried about their weight, their family's health, and personal health. As the average age of millionaires is in the 60s, it's common that millionaires are likely managing disabilities or serious health issues for themselves or their families.
The survey revealed that "more than one-third of non-millionaire and millionaire investors have health-related concerns, which account for the largest proportion of their overall stress across the four areas of total wellbeing included in the study (health, financial, work, and life)." Furthermore, of the subsection of millionaires who reported higher stress levels, "fewer than half feel confident about their health."
Increased Cost of Living
In addition to the surrounding competition, the cost of living in millionaire-dense areas is enough to chip away at anyone's net worth. In wealthy West Coast cities like San Francisco and Palo Alto, home to the mega-rich like PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, being a millionaire isn't enough to launch you into a life of luxury—or even make you stand out from the pack. Match.com founder Gary Kremen, explained to the New York Times that "you're nobody here at $10 million," referring to the concentration of money in Silicon Valley.
The ACCRA Cost of Living Index, published by the Council for Community and Economic Research, lists Manhattan, Honolulu, San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Washington DC as the top five cities with the highest costs of living. Manhattan, New York City, tops the list with a cost of living index of 254.7.
Another reason millionaires might not feel so rich is that from a day to day standpoint, they're not actually living much differently than the rest of us. Being coined a millionaire once led to the conclusion that one did a lot more play than work, a stigma that no longer applies to millionaires in the modern age. According to Spectrem Group, the average United States millionaire is 62 years old. Just 1% of millionaires are under the age of 35, and 38% of millionaires are 65 and older. West Coast millionaires skew slightly older.
Further, a large number of individuals in the Mountain states and Texas never plan to retire, and millionaires in the Northeast and West Coast make up the largest percentage who don't have plans to retire for at least 10 more years.
Living on Less
According to "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of American's Wealthy" by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, frugal living may also contribute to the insecure self-perception millionaires have regarding their wealth. Their research found that the average millionaire lives on less than 7% of his or her wealth, wears inexpensive suits and drives American-made cars that are not the current year's model. Throw the lagging housing market and a volatile stock market into the mix, and it looks like millionaires may not be any better off than the rest of us when it comes to the ability to rest on our financial laurels.
Given all these factors, what will take millionaires to feel rich again? Those surveyed by Fidelity pinpointed $7.5 million as the investable asset level that would make them feel back on top. (Becoming a millionaire is not as hard as you might think—it just takes time.)
And why pay attention to the millionaire "woe is me" findings? They could truly be the key to your own financial future. In a Fidelity-released media statement, Michael R. Durbin, president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, explained that "millionaires' outlook could be seen as a leading indicator of the direction of the economy."
The Bottom Line
Whether you envy millionaires or shake your head in awe at their lack of financially secure feelings, you can stand to benefit from following their lead, whether you choose to get back into the market, scale back your spending, or continue to live just as you do. One day, you just might be a millionaire, too.