Inherited Wealth Outpaces Entrepreneurship as Billionaires’ Path to Riches

Inherited Wealth Outpaces Entrepreneurship as Billionaires' Path to Riches

Experts warn of diminishing opportunities for self-made billionaires and widening wealth inequality.

Last year, for the first time in a decade, billionaires who inherited their wealth surpassed self-made billionaires in terms of accumulated riches. This shift highlights the deteriorating conditions for building wealth through entrepreneurship and the growing divide between inherited wealth and organic opportunities for the middle class. Economists predict that this trend is likely to continue, exacerbating wealth inequality and limiting economic mobility.

The Rise of Inherited Wealth

According to a report from UBS, in 2023, billionaires accumulated more wealth through inheritance than entrepreneurship. This marked a significant shift from the previous nine years of research, where self-made billionaires dominated the wealth rankings. While not all individuals who inherited their wealth are nepo babies, many of them have the advantage of taking over family businesses or using their resources to pivot to new ventures. This advantage gives them a significant head start over those who have less wealth, further perpetuating inequality.

Declining Economic Opportunities for the Middle Class

The decline in economic opportunities for the middle class is evident in the decreasing wages and limited upward mobility. Data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights reveals that the percentage of children earning more than their parents has steadily declined since the 1980s. In 1940, 90% of children went on to earn more than their parents, but by the 1980s, this rate dropped to just 50%. The trend has continued, with the number of children surpassing their parents’ income reaching the lowest level since the early 1900s. This disparity highlights the challenges faced by the middle class in wealth-building.

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Widening Wealth Inequality

While economic opportunities for the middle class decline, the wealthiest segment of the population experiences the opposite trend. Research from Opportunity Insights indicates that salaries for the top 0.1% of earners grew at the fastest pace in 2021, while wages for the bottom 90% declined. This growing wealth gap further exacerbates inequality, as the rich get richer while the majority struggle to maintain their standard of living.

Deteriorating Conditions for Entrepreneurship

Experts point to higher interest rates and other macroeconomic headwinds as factors contributing to the decline in entrepreneurial wealth-building. The challenging environment for entrepreneurs has resulted in a decrease in the number of self-made billionaires. Forbes’ billionaires list reported that only 150 billionaires were created in 2023, down from 236 in the previous year. This decline underscores the difficulties faced by aspiring entrepreneurs in generating substantial wealth.

The Future of Wealth Transfer

The trends of deepening inequality and limited opportunities for self-made billionaires are expected to continue. Chief Investment Officer Max Kunkel predicts that interest rates will remain high for an extended period, further challenging wealth-building conditions for entrepreneurs. In contrast, the ranks of billionaire heirs and heiresses will continue to grow. Kunkel anticipates a “Great Wealth Transfer” over the next 20 to 30 years, with approximately 1,000 billionaire boomers passing down $5.2 trillion to their successors. This transfer of wealth will further widen the gap between inherited wealth and self-made fortunes.


The shift towards inherited wealth surpassing entrepreneurship as a path to riches highlights the challenges faced by the middle class and aspiring entrepreneurs. The decline in economic opportunities and the widening wealth gap pose significant challenges to achieving economic mobility and equality. As the trend of inherited wealth continues to accelerate, it is crucial to address the underlying factors that limit entrepreneurial success and promote policies that foster a fairer distribution of wealth. Restoring rates of economic opportunity and narrowing the wealth gap will require concerted efforts from policymakers, businesses, and society as a whole.

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