Lifestyles of the top 1%: How America's elite live, shop, and play

January 1, 2022 | 7 minute read
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Key takeaways for digital advertisers to work with on their campaigns:

1. The top 1 percent typically have a household income of $400K+ and a net worth of more than $10 million. Broadly target these individuals’ cross channel with HHI or wealth decile digital audiences.

2. Retail shopping trends show the biggest gap between affluent consumers and the average American. To narrow in on your target market, utilize High Fashion and Luxury Brand buyer audiences to hit flush shoppers with your retail message.

3. Luxury buys dominate wealthy household purchase habits with respect to travel, vehicles, and dining out. Find these Michelin Star loving consumers by surrounding luxury focused food and travel content across the open web with a context partner.

The top 1 percent of the US population, as calculated by wealth, seem like unattainable group. Their access to high amounts of disposable income gives us the assumption that these individuals live in a way that is vastly different from mainstream society, that they are almost disconnected from reality. But is this narrative true?

What do the lifestyles of the 1 percent look like? How different are they from the rest of us? And is there anything we can learn from their spending patterns?

We tackled these questions by exploring the data behind wealthy households. From their social media habits and the types of vehicles they buy, to how they shop and where they go on vacation, to reveal what the lifestyles of the rich are really like . . . and whether the disconnected societal narrative matches the reality.

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First, who makes up the 1 percent?

In this study, we defined the top 1 percent using affluence scores—a method that accounts for multiple variables such as income and net worth.

In the analysis, opulent families typically have a household income of more than $400K and a net worth above $10 million, with approximately 92 percent of this population living in homes valued over $600K. These numbers all dramatically over-index when compared to the median US household income of $55K, net worth of $70K, and $190K home value.

These well-off individuals are 40 percent more likely than the rest of Americans to work as financial or sales decision makers, which desired skills may have given them the propensity to become wealthy in the first place.

Although the top 1 percent are as likely to be of European descent as the rest of the US, other backgrounds vary. For example, while only 1 percent of the rich population are African American, they make up 13 percent of the entire US population, whereas Asian origins make up 13 percent of the elite, but only 4 percent of the US population.

Lastly, an overwhelming majority (approximately 96 percent) of flush households are concentrated in major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York, and Los Angeles. However, a few outliers exist in suburban and even rural areas. For example, Warren Buffett continues to live in a modest home in a quiet neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska, originally purchased for $31,500 in 1958 (Distance is not a problem if you own a company that operates business jets!).

Given the sharp geographic concentration of moneyed homes in urban areas, we further segmented the elites into three sub-groups—east coast, west coast, and southerners, highlighting how geographic differences can affect behaviors throughout the rest of the article.

Internet and media consumption habits

When it comes to social media, the rich prefer to utilize Twitter over Facebook on their iOS devices.

Common topics that interest this group are what you might expect: business news, elections, wine, yoga, and social clubs. East coast elites show a particularly strong penchant for real estate when compared to the average American, with their online activity reflecting a considerable interest in finance, mortgage, and brokerage firms. On the other hand, west coast and southern affluents are more inclined to visit local news sites.

Despite an interest in online news, the rich are 3 times more likely than the average American to still get their information via newspapers; and twice as likely to spend money at movie theaters, theme parks, and streaming media services.

When it comes to gaming, well-off individuals are no more or less likely to spend money than the average American. However, they do show disparity on television consumption as light TV viewers.

With Oracle Audiences, you can develop a cohesive audience strategy that is portable across platforms and allows you to find your intended audience when they read local news online, engage on social, stream tv, and more.

Vehicle buying and ownership habits

When it comes to the cars they drive, the top 1 percent are twice as likely to own luxury sedans and 3.3 times as likely to be in the market for luxury SUVs when compared to national baselines.

Overall, prosperous households favor brands like Land Rover, Aston Martin, Porsche, and Audi, however, when comparing the sub-groups, we found some interesting statistics. West coast wealthy are 61 percent more likely to buy a convertible than their east coast counterparts, and 130 percent more likely to own a hybrid/alt-fuel vehicle. In the south, rich consumers are twice as likely to own pickup trucks and buy brands such as Hummer, Cadillac, Chevy, Ford, and Dodge.

Despite the high rates of luxury car ownership, this preference doesn’t register frequently in their online activity, suggesting that most of their shopping still occurs on the dealer lot.

When it comes to maintenance, the affluent are 4 times more likely than the average American to return to their dealership to have their vehicles serviced, and less likely to spend on auto parts. Additionally, east coast wealthy are also 50 percent more inclined to shell out for a car wash when compared to their west coast counterparts.

Consumer goods purchase habits

At the grocery store, the upper class prefer more costly natural living and premium branded products from organic/natural grocery stores, and they are 1.5 times more likely to use online grocery services such as click-to-collect or grocery delivery.

While they may have an aptitude for ordering online, they are less likely than the average American to purchase home cooking or grilling products, quick-and-easy foods, sugar-free and dairy-free products. In general, well-to-do families avoid shopping at convenience stores.

Despite their generally healthy shopping behaviors, the opulent still have their sweet treat weaknesses. For example, east coast elites are 2 times more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs ice cream compared to the average American, while west coast elites show very similar behavior but seem to prefer Dreyer’s ice cream.

Retail shopping habits

The gap between the top 1 percent and the average US household is most obvious when comparing retail shopping trends. The wealthy are 6 times more likely than the average American to spend money on upscale apparel, both in-store and online, preferring luxury department stores, activewear, and kitchen stores, where they are five times more likely to spend when compared to the US average.

Well-to-do households also love indulging in home renovations and purchasing new furniture, with browsing behaviors showing that they are 14 times more likely to browse upscale home-furnishing websites such as Restoration Hardware. When it comes to purchasing home decor, they are 5 times more likely to shop online and 2.7 times more likely to shop in-store when compared to the US average.

Besides the overall retail trends, there are some interesting regional ones. West coast elites spend 47 percent more on technology products when compared to east coast counterparts, while upscale southerners are 70 percent more likely to shop for hunting products, 50 percent more likely to buy tools, and 3.2 times more likely to buy golf accessories.

Despite being able to afford this lavish lifestyle, the rich are just as likely as the average American to shop for deals during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but less inclined to over indulge on Valentine’s Day shopping excursions.

Dining excursions

It’s no surprise that the top 1 percent are 5 times more likely to spend money on fine dining when compared to the average American. However, it may be interesting that well-off individuals also frequent fast-food joints, where they are twice as likely to spend on a quick-serve lunch, coffee, and Asian food. Across the regions, east coast elites are 35 percent more likely to buy quick coffees, breakfast meals, and takeout sandwiches, while the west coast are four times more likely to opt for a meal from a quick-serve Asian restaurant.

Vacation and travel habits

When it comes to travel destinations affluent households go abroad. They are 10 times more likely to vacation in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, and 6 times more likely to travel to Europe and Asia when compared to the average American. Unsurprisingly, they are 5 times more likely to opt for luxury travel and hotels, and 4 times more likely to travel for business.

Data also supports luxurious households travel to destinations with culture and climates outside of their own. Out of the three sub-groups that make up the top 1 percent, the southern group is most likely to book ski or snowboarding vacations; East Coaster are more likely to travel to Mexico or the Caribbean; and the West Coast group is more likely to go to Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania.

Despite their ability to pay for premium travel accommodations, the rich are just as likely as average Americans to frequent mid-range hotels, utilize online vacation rentals, and take cruises.

A lifestyle vastly different from the average American

The 1 percent’s opulent lifestyle allows them to afford luxuries that many of us could only dream of. There are trends that show similarities between this elite group and the rest of society—such as their media consumption habits. However, for the most part, the rich live in a way that is vastly different from the average American. Their preference for luxury vehicles, vacations to faraway places, and expensive homes sets them apart. For better or worse, society’s narrative of the disconnected affluent appears to ring true.

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