Personality Traits Of Self-Made Millionaires

Rainer Zitelmann 21 April 2022

Personality Traits Of Self-Made Millionaires

What sort of people build wealth from scratch? What insights can be learned from such individuals, and what conclusions should wealth managers draw? Those working as private client advisors, bankers and corporate finance professionals can learn from these studies.

Scientists have for the first time presented a study analysing the personality traits of millionaires that reveals a clear distinction between self-made millionaires on the one hand and inheritors and the average population on the other.

The researchers compared a sample of the total German population with a sample of 1,125 Germans with at least €1 million $1.08 million) in individual net wealth. Only the US, China and Japan have more millionaires than Germany. Within the group of millionaires, a distinction was made between self-made millionaires, who had, for example, acquired most of their wealth through their own efforts (e.g. entrepreneurial activities, self-employment or investments), and inheritors. 

All of the study’s respondents completed a short form of the Big Five personality trait test, which distinguishes the following personality traits:

Conscientiousness: This describes how determined, organised, punctual, persistent and goal-oriented a person is. 

Neuroticism: This relates to a person’s psychological stability – how anxious, insecure or neurotic are they? 

Agreeableness: How agreeable is a person – or vice versa: How conflict-oriented are they?

Extraversion: How extraverted is a person, how outgoing?

Openness to new experiences: People differ in the extent to which they are open to new experiences.

In addition, the risk tolerance of individual respondents was also measured.

The key finding: “High wealth was associated with higher risk tolerance, emotional stability, openness, extraversion and conscientiousness. This ‘rich’ personality profile was more prominent among individuals who had accumulated wealth through their own efforts (‘self-mades’) than among individuals who had been born into wealth (‘inheritors’).” And: “The richer the ‘self-mades’ were, the more they resembled the prototypical profile. The researchers concluded “that personality may be a driving force in the accumulation of wealth rather than a consequence thereof” and “that the unique personality of millionaires is driven by individuals with a self-made personality having a higher chance of becoming rich.”

The results of this latest study are consistent with those of my dissertation on the psychology of the super-rich For my qualitative study, I conducted in-depth interviews with 45 super-rich individuals, who also completed a detailed version of the Big Five test. 

However, my interviewees were significantly richer than the 1,125 respondents in the current study – the “poorest” in my study had assets worth at least €10 million, while most had net assets worth between €30 million and €1.0 billion. In the new study, by contrast, the interviewees had an average net worth of only €4.0 million, and most of them belonged to the group best described as “millionaires next door.”   

Nevertheless, the results of the two studies are similar: the rich are characterised by a higher degree of conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, willingness to take risks and extraversion – and they are more psychologically stable. 

There are many reasons why some people succeed in becoming rich while others do not, but the specific combination of personality traits identified by the two studies is certainly one key factor. Rich people get rich because they act differently. And they act differently because they think, make decisions, and react differently. The American writer F Scott Fitzgerald is often quoted as saying, “The rich are different from you and me.” And Ernest Hemingway, it is said, replied, “Yes, they have more money.” In his short story The Rich Boy (1926), Fitzgerald claimed that rich people not only have more money, but also a different personality. Scientific studies have now confirmed this.

Rainer Zitelmann is the author of the book The Wealth Elite 

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