French luxury group LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images
While younger tech billionaires like Elon Musk, 51, and Mark Zuckerberg, 39, may dominate the wealth headlines, the majority of the world’s billionaires are over retirement age, according to a new study.
The median age of the world’s 3,194 billionaires is now 67 years old, data firm Altrata said in a report released Wednesday. Forty-two percent are over the age of 70, and fewer than 10% are under the age of 50, according to the report.
The findings highlight the wide gap between the perception and reality of the world’s billionaires.
While tech wunderkinds and music and sports celebrities may get the most attention, the world’s billionaires are largely aging entrepreneurs, such as Warren Buffett, 92, and Bernard Arnault, 74, who spent a lifetime, or even generations, reaching the three-comma club and accumulating their wealth. According to the report, the median age of the world’s billionaires has actually increased slightly over the past five years.
“Many of the younger billionaires have made their wealth in tech, which has been a fast wealth-creation industry and gets a lot of media attention,” said Maya Imberg, senior director and head of thought leadership and analytics at Altrata. “But most wealth takes a long time to accumulate unless it’s inherited. It takes a vast majority of their business lives to create that amount of wealth.”
The different age groups of billionaires also have different sources of wealth. For billionaires under 50, tech and banking/finance account for the bulk their wealth creation, with 21% making their fortunes in banking/finance and 20% in tech. Billionaires between ages 50 and 70 made most of their money in banking/finance (24%) and industrial conglomerates (8.3%), while those over 70 made their billions from finance (18%), conglomerates (11%) and real estate (8.3%).
Overall, the population of the world’s billionaires fell 3.5% in 2022, to a total of 3,194, according to Altrata. While the number of billionaires may have stabilized or even inched up slightly this year with the rising tech sector, the decline in 2022 marked the first slide since 2018, according to the report.
North America saw a 2.3% decline, to 1,011 billionaires, while Asia saw a 7.1% decline and Europe a 2.2% decline. The U.S. still has the largest number of billionaires in the world by far, with 955, accounting for nearly one-third of the world’s billionaires. China had 357 billionaires by the end of 2022.
Women still account for a small share of billionaires, at 12.5%, according to the report. Yet as a group they are younger than their male counterparts, with 18% of billionaires under the age of 50.
“Diversifying global wealth markets, the growth in female entrepreneurship, slowly evolving cultural (and boardroom) attitudes and the rising frequency of substantial intergenerational wealth transfers are all contributory factors,” to the rise in younger women, according to the report.
New York is still the top city for billionaires worldwide, with 136, according to the report. Hong Kong ranked second, with 112, followed by San Francisco (84), Moscow (76) and London (75).
While four of the top 15 billionaires’ cities are in the U.S., Imberg said the world’s wealth is quickly spreading to other countries.
“If you would have looked at the city list 10 years ago, it would have looked different,” she said. “Now, there are quite a few Chinese cities and non-U.S. cities on the list.”