The assumption that wealthy consumers lead lives filled with frivolous, frequent spending sprees is often inaccurate.
New research from eMarketer on affluent Americans reveals the makeup and behaviors of this sought-after segment are nuanced and complex. Specifically, the demographics and spending habits of the wealthy vary significantly from how they’re often portrayed.
Here are some key insights from the report:
Contrary to the idea of trust-fund playboys and kept women, affluent Americans are more likely to be married and more likely to live in households with two income-earning adults than the population at large, the analysis found.
A poll from Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, as cited by eMarketer, found that 70 percent of Americans with a household income of $100,000+ were married, compared with 55 percent of those with an income of $30,000–$99,999 and 25 percent of those with incomes under $30,000.
U.S. Bureau of Labor data cited by eMarketer shows that households in the top income bracket ($200,000+ annual income) have an average of 2.1 earners; this compares with 1.3 earners among total households.
A poll by Ipsos Affluent Intelligence Group, as cited by eMarketer, found that 74 percent of wealthy adults identify as non-Hispanic white—down from 86 percent in 1992.
Older affluents are overwhelmingly white—90 percent of affluent seniors age 72+ identify as non-Hispanic white—the makeup of younger affluents is more mixed. Fourteen percent of affluent millennials identify as Hispanic, 12 percent as Asian, and 7 percent as black.
Financial security and discounts
Affluent Americans do not necessarily view themselves as financially secure—and many are thrifty spenders—the report found.
A PwC survey cited by eMarketer found that 28 percent of workers who earn $100,000+ say they find it difficult to meet household expenses each month, and 36 percent use credit cards to pay for necessities that they couldn’t afford otherwise.
Moreover, a Harris Poll survey cited by eMarketer found that half of respondents with an annual income of $100,000+ say they frequently worry about their financial situation.
A survey by Simmons Research, as cited by eMarketer, found that affluent consumers are just as likely as non-affluent consumers to shop around to take advantage of specials/bargains and to hold off on buying things until they go on sale. However, affluent consumers are less likely than non-affluent consumers to head right to the clearance rack when entering a store.
Purchasing behavior and attitudes toward luxury
What do affluents spend their money on? It’s not generally caviar and Gucci bags.
The biggest non-housing expenditure in most affluent households ($125,000+ annual income) is transportation payments (20 percent of spending, on average). Home and garden products/services rank second (14 percent of spending), followed by insurance costs (10 percent).
Affluents do tend to spend more on education and travel. Households in the $200,000+ annual income bracket spend an average of $6,743 per year on educational expenses—more than double that of the $150,000–$199,999 group ($3,015) and more than triple that of the $100,000–$149,999 bracket ($1,841).
An MMGY Global survey cited by eMarketer found that 36 percent of affluents ($125,000+ annual income) identify as “luxury travelers” (i.e., they agree with the statement: “It is worth paying more for the very best quality for vacation accommodations and transportation”). Similarly, an Ipsos poll cited by eMarketer found that 19 percent of affluents typically stay at five-star accommodations, and 45 percent typically stay at four-star accommodations.
Beyond travel, the analysis found that many affluent people are hesitant to indulge in luxury purchases.
An Ipsos survey cited by eMarketer found six in 10 affluents ($100,000+ annual income) purchase luxury goods or services once a year or less, on average, and 21 percent say they never purchase luxury goods or services.
This reluctance to indulge appears tied to the idea of financial security—or lack thereof.
People in the $100,000+ bracket say they would want $111,000 in extra annual income, on average, to feel comfortable buying luxury products/services on a regular basis, and people in the $250,000+ bracket say they would want an extra $179,000, on average, to feel comfortable.
So, what should marketers make of all this data?
- First, you should not assume affluents are idle, with plenty of free time. Most are married, family-oriented and part of time-strapped, two-worker households.
- Second, recognize that most affluents do not see themselves as affluent. Most high-income Americans are still concerned about paying the bills and do not feel their financial situation is secure.
- Finally, do not assume that wealthy consumers are willing to spend frivolously. The bulk of affluents are working to earn their income and are not willing to part with it easily. They do occasionally indulge in luxury—especially on experiences such as travel—but for the most part they are careful with their spending.
Ultimately, affluent consumers tend to worry about money, shop around, and wait for sales—in other words, they tend to behave remarkably similarly to non-affluent consumers.