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How Much Does it Take to Be Wealthy in America?

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How Much Does it Take to Be Wealthy in America?

How Much Does it Take to Be Wealthy in America?

Is it possible to pin down an exact number on what it takes to be wealthy, or is wealth far more complex and nuanced than that?

The above graphic looks at data from the 2023 Modern Wealth Survey by Charles Schwab, which asks respondents what net worth is required to be considered wealthy in America.

Later, we look at data that partially contradicts those findings, showing that wealth is more than just a number for many of those same respondents.

Wealthy in America: A Closer Look

Overall, the net worth that Americans say that is needed to be “wealthy” in the United States is $2.2 million in 2023.

Here are the average wealth numbers indicated by respondents across 12 major U.S. cities, based on a survey of 1,000 people between 21 and 75:

RankCityNet Worth to Be "Wealthy"
Net Worth to Be "Financially Comfortable"
1San Francisco, CA$4.7M$1.7M
2Los Angeles & San Diego, CA$3.5M$1.5M
3New York, NY$3.3M$1.2M
4Seattle, WA$3.1M$1.0M
5Washington, D.C.$3.0M$1.0M
6Boston, MA$2.9M$932,000
7Denver, CO$2.5M$710,000
8Phoenix, AZ$2.4M$653,000
9Atlanta, GA$2.3M$729,000
10Chicago, IL$2.3M$817,000
11Dallas, TX$2.3M$820,000
12Houston, TX$2.1M$606,000

In San Francisco, respondents said they needed $4.7 million in net worth to be wealthy, the highest across all cities surveyed, and more than double the national average.

This figure dropped from last year, when it stood at $5.4 million. The vast majority of people in San Francisco say that inflation has had an impact on their finances, and over half say that living in the city impedes their ability to reach their financial goals, citing steep costs of living.

In Los Angeles and San Diego, it takes $3.5 million to be wealthy, the second-highest across cities surveyed. In New York, it takes $3.3 million in net worth to reach this target. It is home to over 345,000 millionaires, the highest worldwide.

Houston, where the cost of living is less than half of San Francisco, respondents said a net worth of $2.1 million is needed to be wealthy. The average salary is $67,000 in Houston, while in San Francisco it falls at $81,000.

The Wealth Paradox

Separately, the survey asked whether respondents “feel wealthy” themselves.

Overall, 48% of all respondents said they feel wealthy, and those people had an average net worth of $560,000. This is a considerable divergence from the $2.2 million benchmark they said was needed to be wealthy.

Here’s the breakdown for major cities, illustrating the paradox:

Percent of Americans Who Feel Wealthy

Millennials were most likely to feel wealthy, at 57% of respondents, while 40% of boomers felt wealthy, the lowest across generations surveyed.

Explaining the Divergence

When digging deeper, it becomes clear that wealth is not simply a number.

In fact, the survey indicates that many Americans place greater importance on non-monetary assets over monetary assets when they think of wealth.

For instance, 72% said having a fulfilling personal life was a better descriptor of wealth than working on a career, which was only chosen by 28% of respondents. Meanwhile, enjoying experiences (70%) was a better reflection of wealth compared to owning many nice things (30%).

Interestingly, there was a narrower margin in choosing between the importance of time (61%) over money (39%).

Beyond monetary figures, these findings illustrate the layers that influence what it means to feel financially healthy today, and how this affects an individual’s overall quality of life.

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Millennials

Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

The wealth of American Millennials hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This line chart shows the growth of wealth for Americans under 40 over the last 40 decades.

Visualizing the Wealth of Americans Under 40 (1989-2023)

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Millennials have been often referred to as a “broke generation.” Whether in conversations or on the news, it is common to hear how those born in the 1980s or 1990s are struggling in today’s economy, particularly when it comes to entering the housing market or saving for retirement.

However, data shows that the wealth of Americans under 40 years old has hit historic highs after the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that millennials have accumulated more wealth by their 40s than previous generations.

To illustrate this, the graphic above shows the average wealth per household, adjusted for inflation, for Americans under 40 years old from Q4 1989 to Q4 2023 (in December 2023 dollars). The data is sourced from the Federal Reserve and accessed via the Center for American Progress.

Post-Pandemic Recovery

Data indicates that younger Americans have reaped the most benefits from the strong economic recovery after the pandemic, enjoying low unemployment rates and rapid wage growth.

The average wealth of U.S. households under 40 was $259,000 in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023, compared to $164,000 in Q4 1989 and $182,000 in Q4 2000.

QuarterAverage Wealth for Those Under 40 (USD)
Q4 1990152K
Q4 1995146K
Q4 2000182K
Q4 2005184K
Q4 2010100K
Q4 2015148K
Q4 2020231K
Q4 2023259K

Looking specifically at millennial households, inflation-adjusted wealth has more than doubled during the same period.

The increase in younger Americans’ wealth is not concentrated in a single area. Average housing wealth—house values minus mortgage debt—rose by $22,000 from 2019 to 2023. Younger Americans also saw gains in liquid assets, such as bank deposits and money market mutual funds, business ownership, and financial assets, mainly stocks and mutual funds.

Additionally, non-housing debt, such as credit card and student loan debt, fell for this age group after the pandemic.

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