Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Making of Rich People and Poor People

The infographic was too tempting to pass up. It compared the habits of millionaires to the rest of us. You have to know about this kind of stuff.

richest-peopleFirst off, most of the 31.6 million millionaires in the world follow a daily routine. Most poor people don’t, which is understandable if you don’t have a job, aren’t going to school and get medical care from an Emergency Room.

Speaking of Emergency Rooms, it turns out the wealthy are also healthy – like three times healthier than poor people. And it isn’t just because of junk food, which the rich devour at a rate pretty close to the poor.

A big difference is in television habits. More than half of rich folks watch one hour or less of TV per day. Three-quarters of poor people watch reality TV shows, contrasted to less than 10 percent of rich people. That tells you who likes the reality they have versus the reality they would like.

By a 6 to 1 margin, more rich people than poor people establish goals. Rich people, by an almost 8 to 1 margin, tend to focus more on accomplishing a specific goal, unless you count poor people figuring out how to put food on the table. The margins are equally gaping for a belief in lifelong education as a form of self-improvement and the view that good habits create opportunity, while bad habits don’t.

Apparently rich parents are much more likely to tutor their children in the virtues of good habits, such as community service and reading two nonfiction books per month. By now you get the message – good habits are good and no habits are not so good.

The infographic contains is some random factoids, such as  the single largest clump of millionaires is in New York City, with slightly smaller clumps in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. Only 10 percent of the world’s millionaires are women.

Parenthetically, the infographic notes 68 percent of the 400 men and women listed on the Forbes 2013 billionaires list are “self-made” rich people. It is hard to argue that Howard Schultz, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates cashed in on their own ingenuity. And they have been generous with their wealth.

But the infographic bypasses the question of whether poor people are poor because they lack good habits. Most people would view dropping out of college, as Bill Gates did, as a bad habit, not a good one.

Opray Winfrey grew up in poverty, was raped, became pregnant when she was 14 and was originally known for popularizing tabloid talk shows. Her current fame didn’t materialize until she reinvented her talk show and focused on self-improvement. That seems like a choice, not a habit.

Howard Schultz grew up in a poor family in Brooklyn. He was the first person in his family to go to college. He went to Northern Michigan University – on an athletic scholarship. He stumbled across a fledgling coffee bean shop in Seattle called Starbucks on a sales call to find out why it purchased so many plastic cone filters. The rest is serendipitous history, unless you count his habit of buying professional sports franchises.

oprah_t580Good ideas, more so than good habits, propelled Gates, Winfrey and Schultz. Like Schultz marketing Oprah chai tea.

So, rich people may have good habits, but that may or may not be why they are rich. Conversely, many poor people aren’t poor because of bad habits. They may be chronically sick or disabled. They may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They may have made rotten decisions. They have been born into poverty and never found a way – or good enough reason – to escape.

If life was only so simple that a good habit would be rewarded with great riches. Instead, millions of poor people slog through their daily schedules, following the habits of their lives, but never get to go home at night to their second house in the Hamptons.

Their habits aren’t always to blame. But their poverty almost always is.



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