We Asked Americans What They Think About the Rich — And Their Answer Surprised Us

Americans view the rich more positively than you might expect.

Americans seem to have a love/hate relationship with the rich. On the one hand, there has been no shortage of reality TV shows that give us an inside peek into the lives of the rich and famous. Yet, there is growing concern about the increasing wealth gap between the nation’s top 1 percent and bottom 99 percent. Not to mention, some politicians are working hard to raise taxes on the rich. And more recently, 50 people — including wealthy Hollywood stars and business leaders — have been accused of participating in a major college bribery scam to get their children into top colleges.

So do Americans love the rich, or love to hate them? To find out, GOBankingRates surveyed more than 500 adults to gauge how they view the wealthy. The results might surprise you, depending on your own feelings toward the rich. Keep reading to find out what Americans believe qualifies as “rich,” and how their feelings about the rich vary depending on age, gender and political party.

Click to See: The Best and Worst States to Be Rich in America

Table of Contents

Key Findings and Summary of Survey Results

GOBankingRates surveyed Americans to get their views about the rich — including whether they have negative feelings toward the wealthy, what words they would use to describe the rich, if they think the rich should be taxed more and whether they think the rich are responsible for income inequality. Although there is a lot of negative sentiment about the rich, respondents also have plenty of positive impressions of the upper class.

One-Fourth of Americans Have Negative Feelings Toward the Rich

The survey found that more than a quarter of Americans have negative or very negative feelings toward the rich. However, about 30 percent have positive or very positive feelings about the rich, whereas an even larger percentage — 43 percent — feel neutral about the rich.

One in Three Americans Think the Rich Are Greedy

When asked what words they would use to describe the rich, nearly 37 percent of respondents chose “greedy.” About an equal percentage of respondents said the rich were self-centered. Only 9.5 percent said the rich were honest.

However, a large percentage of respondents have positive feelings about the rich. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one word among the nine options to describe the rich. The survey found that about 52 percent of Americans think the rich are hardworking, and nearly 43 percent believe that they are intelligent.

Majority of Americans Think the Rich Should Be Taxed More

When asked whether the rich should be taxed more, the most popular answer among respondents was “strongly agree” — with 34 percent choosing this response. And about 22 percent said they agree that the rich should be taxed more. Less than 20 percent disagree or strongly disagree that the rich should be taxed more.

One in Three Think the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality

The survey found that about 35 percent of Americans agree or strongly agree that the rich are responsible for income inequality in the U.S. However, about the same percentage disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

Majority of Americans Think the Government Favors the Rich

When asked whether they agree that the government favors the rich more than other income classes, nearly 32 percent said they strongly agree, while another 25 percent said they agree. The survey found that only 12 percent strongly disagree.

Click to See: Signs You’re Wealthier Than You Think

What Is Considered Rich in America — and Is It Achievable?

Americans seem to have varying ideas about how much money someone needs to be rich. Just over 35 percent of respondents said that a net worth of $1 million or more was needed to be rich. However, about 24 percent said someone would need a net worth of $500,000 or more to be rich. And 20 percent responded that a net worth of $10 million was needed.

The reason there’s so much variance among Americans’ perceptions of what it takes to be rich is because wealth is relative. Financial psychologist Brad Klontz, who has studied Americans’ attitudes toward the wealthy, said the definition of rich is someone who has more money than you do. While the middle class thinks millionaires are rich, Klontz said that millionaires don’t consider themselves rich because there are others who have more than they do.

However, when it comes to attaining such wealth, the survey found that most Americans think anyone can succeed through hard work and persistence: About 30 percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement, and another 24 percent agreed. Less than 6 percent strongly disagreed that anyone in America can succeed through hard work.

Click to See: How Much You Need to Earn to Be ‘Rich’ in Every State

What Americans Believe Someone Must Have to Be Considered Rich

Net Worth of $100K or MoreNet Worth of $200K or MoreNet Worth of $500K or MoreNet Worth of $1M or MoreNet Worth of $10M or More
Percentage of Respondents7.6%13.6%23.7%35.2%20%

How Americans Describe Their Feelings Toward the Rich

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_DescribeFeelings

Respondents were asked to rank their feelings about the rich on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very negative and 5 being very positive. The survey found that more than one-fourth of Americans have negative feelings about the rich. Here are the overall results:

  • 7.8 percent have very negative feelings toward the rich
  • 19.2 percent have negative feelings
  • 43.3 percent have neutral feelings
  • 17.7 percent have positive feelings
  • 12 percent have very positive feelings

Older adults were more likely than younger generations to feel negatively about the rich. The survey found that about 30 percent of respondents 65 and older and 31 percent of adults ages 55 to 64 said they felt negative or very negative about the rich. Democrats were also much more likely than Republicans to think negatively about the rich.

The survey found that respondents who feel negatively about the rich typically said they feel this way because they think the rich are greedy. However, Klontz said there are three key reasons that people hate the rich. The first is what he called money ambivalence — or simply put, a love/hate relationship with money. People who don’t have a lot of money tend to think negatively about the rich because it makes them feel morally superior because they’re not rich. They believe that the rich are greedy and corrupt — and there’s plenty of evidence to support that belief, Klontz said. However, there’s evidence that disputes their beliefs, but they ignore it. Ironically, people who have negative beliefs about the rich are more likely to worship money and believe that having more would make them happier, he said.

Keep Reading: 10 Fears That Are Keeping You From Being Rich 

The second reason people hate the rich is because they’re jealous.

“There’s a sense of injustice,” Klontz said. “[People think] ‘This person has these benefits and they don’t deserve it.'”

The third reason people have negative feelings about the rich is what Klontz called relative deprivation. People often measure their satisfaction with life based on what others have. “You can make the same money and feel rich in one neighborhood and poor in another,” he said. If you live in an isolated community, you can feel fine about yourself. But your self-worth drops once you see that others have more.

How Americans Describe Their Feelings Toward the Rich on a Scale of 1–5, by Age (1 = negative, 5 = positive)

12345
Ages 18-245.8%19.9%48.5%16%9.8%
Ages 25-3420.8%8.3%33.3%16.7%20.8%
Ages 35-4411.8%17.7%35.3%11.8%23.5%
Ages 45-544.4%13%39.1%17.4%26.1%
Ages 55-6413.5%17.3%32.7%23.1%13.5%
Ages 65 and over11.6%18.6%41.9%18.6%9.3%

How Americans Describe Their Feelings Toward the Rich on a Scale of 1–5, by Gender

12345
Men9.7%17%40.6%17.4%15.3%
Women5.3%22%46.7%18.1%7.9%

How Americans Describe Their Feelings Toward the Rich on a Scale of 1–5, by Political Party

12345
Republican1.7%5.9%37.3%32.2%22.9%
Democrat12.7%26.5%45%9.5%6.5%

How Americans Describe Their Feelings Toward the Rich on a Scale of 1–5, by Income Class*

12345
Low-Income Class46.07%19.29%16.43%10.71%7.5%
Middle-Class6.62%18.07%46.56%19.08%9.67%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Words Americans Use to Describe the Rich

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_WordsDescribe

The survey asked respondents which words they would use to describe the rich. They were given the following nine options and could select all that apply:

  • 9.5 percent chose “honesty”
  • 20.4 percent chose “admirable”
  • 21 percent chose “charitable”
  • 24.1 percent chose “condescending”
  • 26 percent chose “inspiring”
  • 36.3 percent chose “self-centered”
  • 36.5 percent chose “greedy”
  • 42.7 percent chose “intelligent”
  • 51.5 percent chose “hardworking”

Many of the negative words people use to describe the wealthy are based on misconceptions, said Tom Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals,” who conducted a five-year study of the rich and poor.

“There’s a myth that the wealthy have inherited their money,” he said. There are also beliefs that people get rich by being crooks, by being greedy or being lucky. But Corley said that his research shows that most people who become wealthy come from the poor or middle class and worked their way up the economic ladder.

“People don’t understand what it takes to become rich,” Corley said. “It is a brutal path to creating wealth. The simple path is to live below your means and invest your money. The hard way is to pursue a dream.”

Click to See: Wealth-Building Strategies Every Rich Person Knows

Words Americans Use to Describe the Rich, by Age

Ages 18-24Ages 25-34Ages 35-44Ages 45-54Ages 55-64Ages 65 and over
Inspiring27.3%37.5%23.5%43.5%17.3%14%
Admirable21.2%16.7%29.4%39.1%13.5%9.3%
Intelligent46%29.2%52.9%39.1%30.8%30.2%
Self-centered37.7%25%35.3%21.7%32.7%41.9%
Condescending24.9%20.8%17.7%13%30.8%20.9%
Hardworking55.5%37.5%64.7%47.8%44.2%37.2%
Honesty9.2%12.5%11.8%17.4%1.9%7%
Greedy36.8%37.5%29.4%26.1%42.3%39.5%
Charitable19%12.5%35.3%26.1%36.5%16.3%

Words Americans Use to Describe the Rich, by Gender

WomenMen
Inspiring22.9%28.5%
Admirable18.5%21.9%
Intelligent35.2%48.6%
Self-centered37.4%35.4%
Condescending29.1%20.1%
Hardworking48%54.2%
Honesty8.4%10.4%
Greedy36.6%36.5%
Charitable18.9%22.6%

Words Americans Use to Describe the Rich, by Political Party

RepublicanDemocrat
Inspiring28%24.3%
Admirable30.5%16.9%
Intelligent61.9%32.3%
Self-centered23.7%41.3%
Condescending13.6%30.2%
Hardworking67%43.9%
Honesty14.4%8.5%
Greedy23.7%43.4%
Charitable30.5%16.9%

Words Americans Use to Describe the Rich, by Income Class*

Low-Income ClassMiddle-Class
Inspiring25%25.95%
Admirable19.6%20.87%
Intelligent45%45.29%
Self-centered37.1%36.39%
Condescending21.1%23.92%
Hardworking52.1%50.64%
Honesty9.6%9.67%
Greedy36.1%35.37%
Charitable20%20.1%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Do Americans Believe the Rich Should Be Taxed More?

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_RichTaxed

Taxing the wealthy at a higher rate isn’t a new idea, but it’s been in the headlines recently because Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has proposed a 70 percent tax rate on the very rich.  The newly elected congresswoman from the Bronx, New York, has said she wants to raise taxes to redistribute money from the rich to the poor.

The GOBankingRates’ survey found that a majority of Americans agree that the wealthy should be taxed more:

  • 34.4 percent strongly agree the rich should be taxed more
  • 21.8 percent agree
  • 25.6 percent neither agree or disagree
  • 6.6 percent disagree
  • 11.7 percent strongly disagree

Corley, who is also a certified public accountant, said it’s a mistake to believe that the government can reduce the wealth gap and income inequality by raising taxes on the rich. “The fact is if you increase taxes on the wealthy, it’s like throwing a pebble in the ocean,” he said. “It will only have a small ripple effect.”

Click to See: How to Be Happier Without Spending a Lot of Money

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Should Be Taxed More, by Age (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

12345
Ages 18-2411.4%6.8%27.3%23.9%30.7%
Ages 25-3420.8%4.2%16.7%20.8%37.5%
Ages 35-4417.7%0%29.4%11.8%41.2%
Ages 45-5421.7%8.7%13%17.4%39.1%
Ages 55-645.8%7.7%25%11.5%50%
Ages 65 and over7%4.7%18.6%20.9%48.8%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Should Be Taxed More, by Gender 

12345
Men14.6%5.6%26.7%24%29.2%
Women7.9%7.9%24.2%18.9%41%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Should Be Taxed More, by Political Party

12345
Republican33.1%14.4%25.4%12.7%14.4%
Democrat1.1%1.6%22.8%24.9%49.7%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Should Be Taxed More, by Income Class*

12345
Low-Income Class13.21%6.43%27.14%20.71%32.5%
Middle-Class9.92%6.87%27.99%24.17%31.04%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Do Americans Blame the Rich for Economic Downturns?

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_EconomicDownturns

Greed has been blamed as one of the causes of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. There’s even research to back up this assumption. For example, University of California, Berkeley researchers found that the housing market collapsed because financial institutions sought out risky mortgage loans in pursuit of profits, according to the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Yet, the GOBankingRates survey found that Americans aren’t so quick to blame the rich for economic downturns:

  • 10.5 percent strongly agree that the rich are responsible for economic downturns
  • 12 percent agree
  • 33.8 percent neither agree nor disagree
  • 24.5 percent disagree
  • 19.2 percent strongly disagree

Related: Why the 1970s Was the US Economy’s Worst Decade

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Economic Downturns, by Age (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

12345
Ages 18-2416.3%23.6%40.2%12.9%7.1%
Ages 25-3425%25%25%8.3%16.7%
Ages 35-4429.4%29.4%17.7%11.8%11.8%
Ages 45-5421.7%26.1%30.4%8.7%13%
Ages 55-6423.1%26.9%23.1%15.4%11.5%
Ages 65 and over25.6%18.6%20.9%2.3%32.6%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Economic Downturns, by Gender

12345
Men21.9%26%27.1%12.5%12.5%
Women15.9%22.5%42.3%11.5%7.9%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Economic Downturns, by Political Party

12345
Republican44.9%28%20.3%5.1%1.7%
Democrat5.8%19.6%43.4%16.4%14.8%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Economic Downturns, by Income Class*

12345
Lower-Income Class19.64%24.64%35%12.14%8.57%
Middle-Class16.54%26.46%34.86%12.72%9.41%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Do Americans Think the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality?

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_WealthInequality

There’s no question that there is income inequality in the U.S. Since 1980, the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent has increased from 25 to 30 percent to about 40 percent in 2016, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

However, GOBankingRates’ survey found that most Americans don’t blame the rich for the country’s income inequality:

  • 17.9 percent strongly agree that the rich are responsible for wealth inequality
  • 17.5 percent agree
  • 31.5 percent neither agree nor disagree
  • 17.1 percent disagree
  • 16.1 percent strongly disagree

Perks of Being Rich: 5 VIP Private Banking Services You Never Knew Existed

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality, by Age (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

12345
Ages 18-2419.9%13.2%17.2%34.1%15.6%
Ages 25-3416.7%29.2%12.5%20.8%20.8%
Ages 35-4417.7%23.5%23.5%23.5%11.8%
Ages 45-5417.4%21.7%13%34.8%13%
Ages 55-6413.5%19.2%15.4%25%26.9%
Ages 65 and over7%16.3%18.6%23.3%34.9%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality, by Gender 

12345
Men16.7%18.8%31.3%14.9%18.4%
Women15.4%15%31.7%20.7%17.2%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality, by Political Party

12345
Republican44.92%18.64%17.8%15.25%3.39%
Democrat3.7%13.8%34.4%19.1%29.1%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Are Responsible for Wealth Inequality, by Income Class* 

12345
Lower-Income Class16.43%17.5%33.21%16.79%16.07%
Middle-Class14.8%17.8%32.3%18.8%16.3%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Do Americans Think the Government Favors the Rich More Than Any Other Income Class?

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_FavorRich

Research shows that it’s not the government itself that favors the rich more, but rather it’s the political party that controls the White House and Congress that affects whether the rich get richer. From 1977 to 2014, the top 1 percent’s share of income rose slightly when Republicans were president and fell slightly when Democrats were president, according to research published by The Brookings Institution.

The survey found that a majority of Americans believe that the government favors the rich more than any other income group:

  • 31.7 percent strongly agree that the government favors the rich
  • 24.9 percent agree
  • 21.8 percent neither agree nor disagree
  • 9.5 percent disagree
  • 12.2 percent strongly disagree

Read: Money Habits Making Millennials Rich We Can All Learn From

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Government Favors the Rich, by Age (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

12345
Ages 18-2411%9.2%24.2%28.8%26.7%
Ages 25-3416.7%4.2%25%12.5%41.7%
Ages 35-4423.5%5.9%17.7%5.9%47.1%
Ages 45-548.7%17.4%21.7%26.1%26.1%
Ages 55-649.6%13.5%11.5%17.3%48.1%
Ages 65 and over11.6%7%14%16.3%51.2%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Government Favors the Rich, by Gender

12345
Men12.2%12.9%20.8%25.7%28.5%
Women12.3%5.3%22.9%23.8%35.7%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Government Favors the Rich, by Political Party

12345
Republican32.2%15.25%22.88%19.49%10.17%
Democrat3.2%6.4%15.9%28%46.6%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Government Favors the Rich, by Income Class*

12345
Lower-Income Class13.93%7.14%25.71%26.43%26.79%
Middle-Class11.5%10.4%21.6%28.5%28%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Do Americans Think the Rich Come by Their Wealth Honestly?

190311_GBR_AmericansLoveHate_WealthHonestly

Although the survey found that less than 10 percent of Americans would describe the rich as honest, most don’t think that they came by their wealth dishonestly. Twenty-one percent of respondents think that rich people generally come by their wealth honestly, and another 6 percent strongly agree. Close to 45 percent neither agree nor disagree that the rich achieve their wealth honestly.

Nearly 19 percent disagree that the rich get their riches through honest means, and about 10 percent strongly disagree.

Look: 1 in 4 Americans Are Confident They’ll Be Rich — But They Need to Take These Steps First

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Come By Their Wealth Honestly, by Age (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree)

12345
Ages 18-247.7%20.3%46.3%20.9%4.9%
Ages 25-3420.8%8.3%41.7%16.7%12.5%
Ages 35-4411.8%17.7%35.3%17.7%17.7%
Ages 45-544.4%21.7%43.5%26.1%4.4%
Ages 55-6415.4%11.5%46.2%23.1%3.9%
Ages 65 and over11.6%14%44.2%18.6%11.6%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Come By Their Wealth Honestly, by Gender

12345
Men8.7%16%44.4%23.6%7.3%
Women11%21.6%44.9%18.1%4.4%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Come By Their Wealth Honestly, by Political Party

12345
Republican3.39%7.63%46.61%31.36%11.02%
Democrat14.8%21.2%45%15.9%3.2%

Percentage of Americans Who Agree/Disagree the Rich Come By Their Wealth Honestly, by Income Class*

12345
Lower-Income Class8.93%19.29%47.14%19.64%5%
Middle-Class9.67%18.58%46.06%20.61%5.09%
*These income classes refer to those surveyed in the $0-9,525 bracket (low-income) and those who self-identify as being “middle class.”

Why Hating the Rich Hurts Your Finances

If you think negatively about the rich, you should take steps now to change your opinion. That’s because hating the rich can make you poor. Klontz said that he has found through his research that having negative beliefs about the rich and money in general is associated with self-destructive financial behaviors such as overspending, gambling and being financially dependent on others.

If you don’t agree, then ask yourself whether believing the rich are terrible has improved your financial well-being.

“It might help you feel better about where you’re at, but is it helping you increase your net worth?” Klontz said.

To eliminate negative feelings about the rich, start by examining why you have those feelings.

“There’s a good reason why you have this belief,” Klontz said. “There’s probably a deeply emotional story in your past or your parents’ past.” But ask yourself whether that belief is accurate, he said. For example, if you think all rich people are greedy, challenge that belief by thinking of someone who has more money than you who you deem to be a good person.

Corley agreed that people need to be more open-minded if they want to eliminate negative beliefs about wealth. “If you’re open-minded, you’re going to pursue knowledge you might not agree with,” he said. For example, you could read books about successful people to get an understanding of how they achieved their wealth. After all, wealth is a byproduct of success. “What you want to focus on is how to pursue success,” Corley said.

Keep reading to learn the money secrets that successful people know.

More on Wealth and Making Money

We make money easy. Get weekly email updates, including expert advice to help you Live Richer™

Methodology: For this survey, GOBankingRates asked the following 14 questions: 1) Which income tax bracket do you fall under? 2) What political party are you affiliated with? 3) Which words would you use to describe “the rich”? Please select all that apply. 4) How much do you agree with this statement: “Anyone in America can succeed through hard work and persistence.” 5) How would you describe your feelings toward “the rich” in the U.S.? 6) Explain your feelings on “the rich”, why they’re positive, negative or neutral. 7) Do you think “the rich” should be taxed more? 8) How much do you agree with this statement? “The rich are responsible for economic downturns. 9) How much do you agree with this statement: “The rich are responsible for the wealth inequality in America.” 10) How much do you agree with this statement: “The government favors the rich more than any other income class.” 11) Do you think “the rich” people generally come by their wealth honestly? 12) Which of the following do you consider yourself? 13) How do you think the rich deserve to be taxed? 14) How much money do you believe someone must have to be considered “rich”? The survey was conducted by Survata from Feb. 26 through March 1, 2019, and 515 adults were polled.

About the Author

Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.

U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.

She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.