1. The top 1 percent typically have a household income of $400K+ and a net worth of more than $10 million.
2. Retail shopping trends show the biggest gap between the top 1 percent and the average American.
3. Luxury buys dominate the top 1 percent’s purchasing habits with respect to travel, vehicles, and dining out.
The top 1 percent of the US population, as calculated by wealth, represent a very elite club. Because of their access to more disposable income, the overall perception is that these individuals live in a way that is vastly different from mainstream society. This narrative of wealth imbalance particularly plays out in the media, which often presents the elite as 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 the 1 percent. From their social media habits and the types of vehicles they buy, to how they shop and where they go on vacation, we reveal what the lifestyles of the 1 percent are really like . . . and whether the societal narrative matches the reality.
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, the top 1 percent typically have a household income of more than $400K and a net worth above $10 million. Approximately 92 percent of this population live in homes valued over $600K. These numbers all dramatically over-index compared to the median US household income of $55K, the median net worth of $70K, and the median home value of $190K.
An overwhelming majority (approximately 96 percent) of the top 1 percent 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 the elite in metro areas, we further segmented the elites into three sub-groups—East Coast, West Coast, and southerners.
The elites are 40 percent more likely than the rest of Americans to work as financial or sales decision makers, which may give them the skills to become so wealthy in the first place.
Although the top 1 percent are as likely to be of European origin as the rest of the US, the numbers are interesting for other groups. One percent of the elite population are African American, whereas 13 percent of the entire US is African American. People of Asian origin make up 13 percent of the elite, whereas they make up only 4 percent of the whole US population.
Internet and media consumption habits
The top 1 percent prefer Twitter and email over Facebook. They are also 73 percent more likely to use iOS devices, and they are light TV viewers.
Common topics that interest this group are what you might expect: business news, elections, wine, yoga, and social clubs.
Interestingly, though, the rich are three times more likely than the average American to get their news via newspapers; and twice as likely to spend money at the box office, at movie theaters, and at theme parks; and to purchase media streaming services. However, the rich are no more or less likely to spend money on video and mobile games than the average American.
East Coast elites show a strong penchant for real estate in their online behavior compared to the average American. Their online activity reflects a considerable interest in finance, and mortgage and brokerage firms, and they frequently visit sites such as Corcoran.com and Houlihanlawrence.com.
On the other hand, West Coast and southern elites are more inclined to visit local news sites such as Paloaltoonline.com and Houstonia.com.
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 compared to national baselines.
The favorite brands for this segment are Land Rover, Aston Martin, Porsche, and Audi. They are also four times more likely than the average American to have their vehicles serviced at dealerships, and less likely to spend on auto parts. 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.
Comparing the different sub-groups, we found some other interesting statistics. West Coast elites 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. Since they must deal with harsher weather, the East Coast wealthy are 50 percent more inclined to shell out for a car wash compared to the 1 percent on the West Coast.
In the South, rich folks are twice as likely to own pickup trucks; and are also twice as likely to buy brands such as Hummer, Cadillac, Chevy, Ford, and Dodge. When compared to the East Coast, southerners are 3.3 times more likely to get a car wash.
Consumer goods purchasing habits
When it comes to groceries, the elite prefer natural living and premium branded products. They are less likely than the average American to purchase home cooking or grilling products, quick-and-easy foods, and sugar-free and dairy-free products. And they are 1.5 times more likely than the average American to use online grocery services, preferring organic/natural grocery stores. In general, they avoid shopping at convenience stores.
Despite their generally healthy shopping behaviors, the elites still have their weaknesses. For example, East Coast elites are two times more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs ice cream compared to the average American. 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 elite are six times more likely than the average American to spend money on upscale apparel, both in-store and online. Luxury department stores, women’s yoga/activewear stores, and kitchen equipment stores are their favorite places to shop, where they are five times more likely to spend, compared to the US average.
The top 1 percent also love indulging in home renovations and furniture shopping. They are 14 times more likely to browse upscale home-furnishing company websites such as Restoration Hardware. For home decor, they are five times more likely to shop online but only 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 are tech enthusiasts and spend 47 percent more on technology compared to East Coast elites; their online behavior also reflects tech savvy-ness. Southern elites 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, when compared to their East Coast counterparts.
Despite all the premium retail shopping, the rich are just as likely as the average American to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Data also suggest that they are less inclined to embark on typical Valentine’s Day shopping excursions.
Dining and eating out
It’s no surprise that the top 1 percent enjoy fine dining—they are five times more likely to spend in this category compared to the average American. However, the elite also frequent fast-food joints, where they are twice as likely to spend on a quick-serve lunch, coffee, and Asian food.
East Coast elites are 35 percent more likely to buy quick coffees, breakfast meals, and takeout sandwiches compared to West Coast elites. However, the latter are four times more likely to opt for a meal from a quick-serve Asian restaurant, compared to their East Coast counterparts.
Vacation and travel habits
When it comes to travel destinations, the rich have the means to go to faraway places, and they appear to take advantage of this fact. They are 10 times more likely to vacation in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, and six times more likely to vacation in Europe and Asia, when compared to the average American. Unsurprisingly, they are five times more likely to opt for luxury travel and hotels, and four times more likely to travel for business.
Data also supports the hypothesis that people like traveling to destinations that are different from their homes. 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; the East Coast group are more likely to travel to Mexico and the Caribbean; and the West Coast group is more likely to go to Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania.
Despite their ability to pay for luxurious travel accommodations, the rich are just as likely as average Americans to frequent midrange hotels, online vacation rentals, and 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 1 percent live in a way that is vastly different from the average American. Their penchant for luxury vehicles, vacations to faraway places, and expensive homes puts them in a completely different stratum of people. For better or worse, society’s narrative of a disconnected sector of people certainly appears to ring true!