A study of 1,125 millionaires found they're more optimistic and likely to take risks. That's not a good thing for society.
- German scientists studied 1,125
millionairesto identify the behavioural traits they share.
- They found millionaires to be more open and conscientious but less neurotic, compared with others.
Are self-made billionaires like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg really any different than the average person, or even other rich people?
Scientists in Germany say they've found the answer after studying the personality traits of more than 1,000 high-wealth people.
They conclude that millionaires, particularly self-made ones, are more likely to take risks, are more open-minded, conscientious and generally more optimistic compared with non-rich people and those who inherited their wealth.
However, they warn this brashness could have a negative impact on society, as rich people often yield great power.
Rich people have a net worth of $1.9 million
For the study, published in the journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, researchers looked at data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, a household survey of 30,000 people.
It includes a subset of wealthy individuals, as well as information about their assets and material resources.
Rather than focus on income, the academics looked at a person's net worth, including stocks, assets, and businesses owned, as a more reflective measure of fortune.
A person was classed as "rich" if they had a net worth of above €1 million ($1.9 million) and "non-rich" if it was below €800,000 ($870,000). Those with a net wealth between the two were excluded.
Of the 23,721 individuals remaining, 1,125 were millionaires; 190 had an individual net worth of more than €5 million; 61 more than €10 million.
As part of the survey, participants also completed a questionnaire assessing their character according to the Five-Factor Theory of Personality — commonly referred to as the Big Five personality traits — and their appetite for risk.
Developed by psychologists from the Institute of Aging, the model proposes that a person's personality can be determined by five factors.
Neuroticism, their tendency to be anxious or pessimistic; openness, to experiences, as well as levels of creativity and inventiveness; conscientiousness, their ability to be organised and persistent; agreeableness, their tendency to trust and work with others; and finally, extraversion, which determines how active or sociable a person is."
Each individual measures somewhere on a scale between high or low levels of each, according to the model.
Self-made millionaires have a higher tolerance for risk
In brief, the results showed that rich people generally have higher levels of risk tolerance, openness, extraversion and consciousness, but lower levels of neuroticism and agreeableness compared with people who aren't rich.
Wealth, however, was not the determining factor.
When compared with people who inherited their fortune, self-made millionaires were much more willing to take risks and generally less neurotic.
The findings have wider implications for society
The findings have wider implications, the researchers said. With wealth comes power. Rich people have significant influence on politics and wider society.
"When an important decision-maker with a high-risk tolerance implements plans that may be beneficial but are very risky, this risk-prone decision making may end up being to the detriment of the more risk-averse rest of the population," they noted in the
The academics also noted that the study focused explicitly on German millionaires, so could yield different conclusions if applied to different countries with different cultural mindsets.
They also note that while personality profile is no automatic guarantee of economic success — factors like education, access to resources and abilities also matter — individuals who display the self-made personality traits, have a "higher chance of becoming rich."
It's not the first study to find a link between the super-rich and the
Openness — particularly when it comes to creativity and curiosity — is another frequently highlighted trait shared by wealthy CEOs.
Ann Hiatt, a former executive assistant to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, told Insider that billionaire CEOs ask questions and are resilient.
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