What Is a Billionaire?

The term billionaire refers to an individual with assets or a net worth of at least one billion currency units in their native currency such as dollars, euros, or pounds. Billionaires are extremely rich, with assets ranging from cash and cash equivalents, real estate, as well as business and personal property.

These individuals are ranked each year by Forbes, an American business magazine, which first started compiling lists in 1987.

Key Takeaways

  • A billionaire is someone who has assets or a net worth of at least one billion currency units in their native currency such as dollars, euros, or pounds.
  • Billionaires are extremely rich, with assets ranging from cash and cash equivalents, real estate, as well as business and personal property.
  • Forbes has been ranking billionaires every year since 1987.

Understanding Billionaires

A billionaire is a person with a net wealth of a billion dollars, which is $1,000,000,000, or a number followed by nine zeroes. This is one thousand times greater than a millionaire ($1,000,000). Billionaires in other countries are defined by monetary units in other currencies such as euros, pounds, and others. So someone who is a billionaire in Europe is defined with a net worth of €1 billion or more, while someone in the United Kingdom has £1 billion or more.

Subtracting liabilities from assets results in an individual's net worth. A billionaire's assets generally include things like cash and liquid investments, personal property such as real estate, jewelry, cars and other vehicles, and furniture. Business interests such as equipment and commercial properties are also included if the individual has a personal stake in a corporation.

Billionaires make up a small and very elite club of powerful individuals—both men and women—in the world. These people control enormous sums of money and the power and influence that comes with it.

A deca-billionaire is someone who has more than $10 billion while a centi-billionaire more than $100 billion in net wealth.

As noted above, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the world's billionaires every year. When Forbes produced the first list in 1987, there were 140 names on the list. Twenty-five years later, the list grew to 1,226—an all-time high—in 2012. Twenty-four of the billionaires on the original 1987 list remained on the list for 2012. By 2018, Forbes listed a record 2,028 billionaires around the globe, from 72 countries. As of March 2020, 2,095 billionaires made the list. Their combined net worth totaled $8 trillion.

Special Considerations

According to Forbes' 2020 report, the United States has the most billionaires in the world with a total of 614. China followed with 389 billionaires, Germany with 107 billionaires, India with 102 billionaires, and Hong Kong with a total of 66 billionaires.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chief executive officer (CEO), ranked the highest on the magazine's list with a total net worth of $113 billion. Amazon (AMZN) raked in $280.5 billion in revenues and $11.5 billion in net profit for the 2019 fiscal year.

Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, came in second with $98 billion when the list was compiled in March 2020. Two other Americans made the top five list—Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A/BRK.B) Warren Buffett with $67.5 billion and Larry Ellison, co-founder and chairman of Oracle (ORCL). Ellison's net worth was $59 billion at the end of March 2020.

Readers can isolate names on the list by country, industry, as well as age group. For instance, Lukas Walton was one of the youngest billionaires, ranking in 44th with a net worth of $18.4 billion. He is the grandson of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart (WMT). His father, John, died in a plane crash, leaving the 33-year-old his entire fortune. Stephen Bechtel Jr., who ran a construction and engineering firm, is the oldest on the list at 94 with a net worth of $3.7 billion.

The richest billionaire woman, according to the report, was Alice Walton. This billionaire was worth $54.4 billion, putting her in ninth place overall.