Money’s theory of relativity: Here’s how much money you need to make the 1% in the world’s 10 richest countries

May 24, 2023, 8:13 PM UTC
While a few million is nothing to wag your tongue at, it doesn't look like much in Monaco.
Bettmann / Contributor—Getty Images

In the words of the genius with uncombed hair and tongue stuck out, everything is relative. The speed of light, gravity, and laws of physics in space all mean that different forces work differently in different places, according to Albert Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity. As he raked in more money after his life than during it, Einstein’s existence itself proves his theory. Taking Einstein’s teachings and applying them to money instead of space, you’ll find that it tracks—the amount of wealth you have depends on where you are and when you are alive. That’s all to say, it’s all relative. Knight Frank, the real estate agency and consultancy group, issues an annual report on the 1% worldwide. Looking at billionaires in more than 200 territories and 100 cities, Knight Frank also measured current attitudes toward wealth by surveying 500 wealth advisors and bankers as well as 500 high net worth individuals across the globe. Making the 1% has its own theory of relativity, it turns out.

Monaco, the small country where Grace Kelly became a princess, is perhaps unsurprisingly the hardest place to be wealthy. (Come on, it’s Monaco.) It takes $12.4 million to be considered part of the 1% in the land known for luxury, real estate agency Knight Frank found in its annual wealth report

In a time of pervasive financial anxiety, many in the U.S. think the benchmark for comfort or security while living in the nation is quite high. People generally believe that you need an average net worth of $774,000 to be financially comfortable and $2.2 million to be wealthy, according to a 2022 survey of 1,000 Americans by Charles Schwab. Both numbers are higher than what respondents said it would take to be wealthy in 2021 ($624,000 and $1.9 million respectively). Some of it is based on uncertainty, as even rich individuals reportedly feel some anxiety about their status, but it’s also about the current cost to comfortably retire, which is slowly creeping up to more than $1 million. 

That being said, the pandemic allowed for some record-breaking wealth building for the U.S. middle class, but while their golden era faded, the rich made out very well indeed. Billionaires’ wealth now accounts for an inordinate amount of the prosperity in the world, equal to 13.9% of global GDP, per Oxfam. And catching up to the 1% takes more during an age where CEOs are compensated at a greater rate than everyone else, averaging a salary of $27.8 million a year.

Wealth inequality is especially high in the U.S., though across the world the growing number of ultrarich account for most of the world’s wealth. Over the past two years, a new billionaire was made every 30 hours, according to Oxfam. Since 2020 the richest 1% have accounted for almost double the wealth of the rest of the world, the charitable organization finds.

Below is the shakedown of what it takes to be in the elusive 1% for the following 10 countries. 

  1. Monaco: $12.4 million
  2. Switzerland: $6.6 million 
  3. Australia: $5.5 million
  4. New Zealand: $5.2 million
  5. United States: $5.1 million
  6. Ireland: $4.3 million
  7. Singapore: $3.5 million
  8. France: $3.5 million 
  9. Hong Kong SAR: $3.4 million
  10. United Kingdom: $3.3 million 

“Now the bottom half of the global population would have to toil for an estimated 112 years to earn what the top 1% now rake in over just 12 months,” wrote Fortune’s Christiaan Hetzner. While the millionaires enjoy the rest of their days building a nest egg, the rest of us can keep dreaming of Monaco. It’s all relative.

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