Adriana Reyneri; Millionaire Corner  February 1, 2013

Members of Gen X and Y tend to view the wealthy as happier than most. Older Americans are more apt to see the rich as living more complicated lives.

Are the lifestyles of the wealthy carefree, intense, complicated, duty bound? Are the rich happier than the rest of us? Younger adults tend to view the wealthy through rose-tinted glasses, while older investors appear more aware of the downsides of wealth, according to the results of a January survey from Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner.

Younger adults – those ages 40 and younger – tend to view the wealthy as carefree, while older Americans are equally likely to see the rich leading complicated or carefree lives. The older folks – those ages 61 and older – are also more prone to see the wealthy as duty-bound, citing the factor “With great wealth comes great responsibility.” What about the age-old question, “Can money buy happiness?” More than one-third of young adults –say yes, compared to 18 percent of Americans ages 61 and older.

Americans overwhelmingly associate wealth with greater security (84 percent), according to our research, but older investors put more emphasis on security (87 percent) than younger investors (72 percent). Older investors are also more inclined to believe wealthy Americans bear more responsibilities than the less wealthy (36 percent vs. 22 percent, respectively).

On the other hand, younger investors are more likely than their older peers to view the wealthy as enjoying more happiness (39 percent vs. 33 percent, respectively) or having more fun (32 percent vs. 27 percent, respectively). Younger investors are also more inclined than the elderly to believe the wealthy have to do less work (23 percent vs. 17 percent, respectively).

Younger investors are significantly more likely than older investors to define the wealthy in terms of income (60 percent vs. 43 percent, respectively) and lifestyle (54 percent vs. 50 percent, respectively). The elderly have a stronger tendency than younger investors to define the wealthy in terms of net worth (76 percent vs. 70 percent, respectively) and set a higher bar for the minimum income and net worth that takes to be rich.

The largest share of older investors, 37 percent, indicate it takes a minimum of $450,000 a year to be wealthy, compared to 26 percent of investors younger than 40. More than one-fourth of older investors indicate a person needs a net worth of at least $5 million to be rich, compared to 17 percent of younger investors. The largest share of younger investors believes a person needs at least $1 million to be rich, compared to 22 percent of older investors. Younger investors have a stronger tendency to define the rich in terms of owning three or more cars (76 percent vs. 65 percent), or taking four or more vacations a year (57 percent vs. 44 percent).

Younger investors tend to describe a rich person as working in a high-earning profession as an entrepreneur or venture capitalist. Older investors are most likely to define a wealthy person as having “so much money he or she does not need to work.”

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