The Rise of Inherited Wealth: A Shift in Billionaire Fortunes

The Rise of Inherited Wealth: A Shift in Billionaire Fortunes

Experts attribute the increase in inherited wealth to a decline in opportunities for self-made billionaires.

In a surprising twist, billionaires who acquired their wealth through inheritance surpassed self-made billionaires in 2023 for the first time in a decade. This shift in billionaire fortunes has raised concerns among economists, who point to deteriorating conditions for building wealth through entrepreneurship as a key factor. The growing divergence between inherited wealth and limited opportunities for the middle class is expected to continue accelerating, further exacerbating income inequality. This article explores the implications of this trend and the challenges it poses for economic mobility.

The Changing Landscape of Wealth Creation

According to a report by UBS, the world’s billionaires accumulated more wealth through inheritance than entrepreneurship in 2023, marking a significant departure from the previous nine years of research. While some individuals who inherit substantial wealth may leverage their resources to pivot to new ventures or scale existing family businesses, economists argue that they still enjoy a significant advantage over those with fewer financial resources. This trend reflects the challenging conditions faced by middle-class workers striving to build wealth.

Declining Economic Opportunities for the Middle Class

The decline in economic opportunities is most evident in the middle class, where an increasing number of children are earning less than their parents. Data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights reveals that 90% of children born in 1940 went on to earn more than their parents, but this rate dropped to just 50% in the 1980s. In recent years, rates of economic opportunity have continued to decline, reaching their lowest levels since the early 1900s. The chance of upward mobility and surpassing parental income has become a coin flip for many.

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Widening Income Inequality

While economic opportunities for the middle class have dwindled, the wealthiest segment of the population has experienced the opposite trend. A study by Opportunity Insights, citing data from the Economic Policy Institute, found that salaries for the top 0.1% of earners grew at the fastest pace in 2021, while wages for the bottom 90% declined. This deepening income inequality exacerbates the challenges faced by those seeking to build wealth through entrepreneurship.

Macroeconomic Headwinds and Entrepreneurial Wealth-Building

The deteriorating conditions for entrepreneurial wealth-building can be attributed to higher interest rates and other macroeconomic headwinds. Max Kunkel, the chief investment officer of UBS’s global wealth management division, argues that these factors have contributed to the decline in self-made billionaires. Forbes’ billionaires list reported that only 150 billionaires were created in 2023, down from 236 in the previous year. The trend suggests a shrinking pool of self-made billionaires.

The Outlook for the Future

Experts warn that the trends of deepening inequality and narrowing opportunity are likely to accelerate further. Kunkel predicts that interest rates will remain higher for a longer period, creating dire wealth-building conditions for entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the number of billionaire heirs and heiresses is expected to grow steadily as the “Great Wealth Transfer” unfolds over the next two to three decades. Approximately 1,000 billionaire boomers are projected to pass along $5.2 trillion to their successors, signaling a momentum shift in inherited wealth.


The rise of inherited wealth and the decline of opportunities for self-made billionaires highlight the challenges faced by the middle class and the increasing income inequality in society. As economic mobility continues to decline, efforts to restore rates of economic opportunity to levels observed decades ago become crucial. Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach, including policies that promote entrepreneurship, reduce income inequality, and provide equal opportunities for all individuals to build wealth. The future of wealth creation and economic mobility depends on our ability to address these systemic challenges and create a more equitable society.

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