The word rich is defined in the dictionary as having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds.
But this word does certainly have varying definitions depending on who you ask. Some would consider a rich person to have a certain amount of money or material possessions, while others don’t necessarily attach a dollar amount to a rich person, but instead define a “rich” person based on non-material things such as health, happiness, support and family.
Nevertheless, income, measured either by household or individual, is the most commonly used measure for whether or not a person (or business entity) is considered rich. Still, specific definitions abound.
In 2008, a survey by the Chicago based Spectrum Group asked affluent households (those with investible assets of $500,000 or more) how much they required to be considered rich. Of the respondents, 45% said $5 million or more, 25% said $25 million or more, and 8% said $100 million; only 22% said $1 million is enough to be rich.
“Rich” in the Political Realm
The debate on what it means to be rich has recently come to light as the Obama Administration has proposed new taxes for the “rich.”
Republicans and Democrats think very differently on this topic. President Obama had proposed preserving Bush era tax cuts for middle-class Americans and letting them expire for the top 2.5% of taxpayers — individuals who make more than $200,000 a year, and families whose income exceeds $250,000.
Even though the proposal never went anywhere, many question why $250,000 would qualify a family as being rich, thereby pushing them into a higher tax bracket.
In the Presidential campaign of 2008, Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, set off a public outcry when he was asked the dividing line between middle class and rich. He replied that it was $5 million, a statement he said was supposed to be a joke. Mr. Obama’s response was $150,000.
Rich as a Standard of Living
Additionally, when considering the definition of “rich”, yoiu must also consider the standard of living a certainly salary level enables someone to maintain. This varies depending on location.
According to a study released in September 2010 by two Princeton University professors, in most of the United States, people feel comfortably middle class if they earn $70,000. But in New York City, the figure was a high $165,000. The median income in New York City is $55,980, according to the Census Bureau. Clearly, where you live will impact the dollar-figure you put on the definition of “rich.”
But there’s certainly one problem here: University of Colorado at Boulder professor Jeffrey Zax points out that “consumption expectations uniformly expand to fill one’s income.” In other words, the more you make, the more you spend, which may leave you never really feeling rich.
“But there’s also a strong social pressure not to think of ourselves as wealthy,” says Zax, “There’s a fair amount of self-deception going on here.” Accordingly, it is quite possible that people do not want to recognize their wealth or sign on to the belief that they are in fact rich.
Non-Monetary Definitions of Rich
There are many definitions of rich, some set by politicians, others set by government organizations, some we establish ourselves. Most of these definitions qualify someone as rich based on income or material possessions.
However, there is another camp that would consider wealth to be completely disassociated with income levels. Certain people who have their health, are happy with their professional lives, and are supported by good family and friends, would consider themselves rich, independent of the amount of money they make or have saved or inherited. For some wealth does not have anything to do with material possessions, but is more about living a full, abundant, relational life.
Sure, money can help you be more satisfied with life on some level, but, as they say, money isn’t everything. If you have food on the table, a roof over your head, and people in your life who love you, take time this holiday season to be thankful for the richness of your life!
Published or updated April 4, 2013.