How one affluent segment of the U.S. population influences national buying habits.
There are currently some 8.4 million American households with a net worth between one and ten million dollars. They are, largely, the self-made, working rich, drawn from the middle class and expressing many middle-class values and concerns, with their own particular emphases. They make and spend big money in ways that have a powerful impact on the goods and services offered. Prince, president of a private wealth-research firm, and Schiff, whose Advanced Planning Group specializes in high-net-worth clients, present here the fruits of their survey on how the attitudes of such new-millionaire households have reshaped the marketplace. This population segment exhibits specific traits that savvy businessfolk can tap into, they suggest. In particular, these “middle-class millionaires” place a premium on seeking and offering advice, serving as apostles for the services they use. Their willingness to pay for prompt, individualized care has had a trickle-down effect; people of lesser means have benefited from provider realization that this kind of service pays handsomely. The group’s self-betterment ethos—one might say, overweening self-interest—has spawned a galaxy of life coaches in fitness, finance, college admissions, etc. Though Prince and Schiff steer clear of value judgments, they touch on aspects of the middle-class millionaire mind-set that do not embrace the commonweal. A long chapter on teardowns shows newcomers who feel entitled to build their dream home battling longtime residents who wail, “there’s no reason to tear down a $400,000 house.” Though the newly wealthy may often be laudably concerned with education, health and family, it is frightening to read that we might well be headed toward a “plutonomy” in which the rich alone drive economic growth. In 2004, the wealthiest ten percent of Americans collected 43 percent of annual income.
Prince and Schiff find gold in the plutocratic lining: Someone has to supply toys to the rich.