Survey after survey I pored over while researching this book shows that a shrinking percentage of today's wealth came through a bequest. Research from the Spectrem Group, based in Chicago, found that only 2 to 4 percent of today's millionaires became rich that most old fashioned way. This means you no longer have to be born into wealth. Despite the hurdles presented by the markets in 2008, the American dream is alive and thriving—and you have the ability to achieve it.
Where Are Women in This Mix?
The tide for women is turning a bit more slowly—but it is turning, nonetheless. Remember, there are two ways for people to become wealthy: They can inherit money or they can earn it. (Some people might argue that marriage is a third proven way to get wealthy. I don't put it on the list because it can also take your financial life in the opposite direction. Nine percent of our survey respondents blamed divorce for a negative turn in their fortunes; 8 percent blamed marriage itself.)
Interestingly, the fact that the ranks of the wealthy are more dominated these days by earned wealth rather than inherited wealth works against women. How? Think about the wealthy American families of yesteryear, the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Hearsts, and so on. They had children and their children had children and—on average—those children were likely to be 50 percent male and 50 percent female. So as the money passed from generation to generation, it created as many female millionaires as male ones.
When it comes to earning money, however, men still hold the advantage. Women are making strides. Some 30 to 40 percent of women outearn their spouses. More women than men are entering college and graduate-degree programs. Some researchers predict that the average woman will outearn the average man by the year 2030. But for now, women still lag. In 2007, the number of cents a woman earned for each dollar a man earned jumped from 77—where it had been stuck for as long as I can remember—to 81. Progress, yes, but still not an even playing field.
In terms of wealth and who has it, the number of women inheritors falling out of the ranks of the über-wealthy is—for now—greater than the number of women earners climbing into them. As Columbia's Kopczuk puts it: "Old wealth is split equally. New wealth is not. But as time goes on, we expect to see a more equal split in wealth as well as in income. The tremendous strides women have made in income already indicates we will."