What does it take to be considered wealthy in the U.S.? A cool million isn’t enough these days. You’ll need twice that and then some.
When Schwab started doing the survey in 2017, respondents said it took $2.4 million to be considered wealthy. The amount needed to enter the wealthy club peaked at $2.6 million in 2020, then fell to $1.9 million in 2021, perhaps a consequence of the financial turbulence of the pandemic. (The survey doesn’t specify whether the amount needed to be wealthy refers to net worth or cash on hand.)
Though that kind of cash is out of reach for most Americans, nearly half of those surveyed (48%) said they “felt” wealthy, according to this year’s survey. The average net worth of people who said they felt wealthy was $560,000, according to the survey, which was conducted in March. The median net worth of all U.S. households was $121,760 in 2019, the last time the Federal Reserve measured it.
Americans’ perceptions of wealth have shifted over the past several years. When asked to define what it means to be wealthy, people appear to be putting less emphasis on the contents of their wallets and more on the contents of their hearts, according to previous versions of the same Schwab survey.
In three of the surveys, Schwab has asked respondents to finish the sentence, “To me, wealth means… .” In 2017 and 2022, “money” was the most popular answer. But this year, the No. 1 answer for what wealth means was “well-being.”
“Survey respondents defined ‘wealthy’ as enjoying experiences and being in good physical health rather than owning nice things and being successful. ”
In this year’s survey respondents defined “wealthy” as enjoying experiences and being in good physical health rather than owning nice things and being successful. When asked to choose between two definitions of what wealth means to them, they were far more likely to choose “enjoying healthy relationships with loved ones” than “having a lot of money.”
Younger respondents were most likely to report feeling wealthy, with 57% of millennials and 46% of Generation Z saying they feel wealthy, vs. 41% of Gen X and 41% of baby boomers.
“Americans today aren’t as worried about keeping up with the Joneses, and more importantly, they understand that they can be happier with fulfilling experiences and relationships, even if they have less money than them,” said Jonathan Craig, managing director and head of investor services at Charles Schwab.
While that’s one interpretation of Americans’ financial well-being, other recent gauges have suggested a shakier picture. As U.S. households have struggled with higher prices due to inflation, increasing credit-card debt, and incomes that don’t always cover bills, their “self-reported financial well-being fell sharply and was among the lowest observed since 2016,” according to the latest Federal Reserve report on the economic well-being of U.S. households, which looked at households in 2022.
“The share of adults who said they were worse off financially than a year earlier rose to 35%, the highest level since the question was first asked in 2014,” according to the Fed report.
Households have seen their net worths expand this year, rising 2% in the first three months of the year to $148.8 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve’s flow of funds report. However, that’s still below the all-time record of $152.6 trillion in early 2022 when Americans were still receiving pandemic aid from the government.
Jeffry Bartash contributed.