Why don't rich people look rich

Rich or not rich?

There is no question about it: if you are single in Germany with 3,529 euros net available per month, you don't have to worry financially. But are you also rich with this income?

Yes, say the data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), a regular survey of around 16,000 private households. According to this, a single person belonged to the top 10 percent of this group with this net income in 2017 - there are no more recent data. Income is not just about salary - it also includes rental income, profits from shares, net income advantages from owner-occupied residential property and state benefits such as child benefit. Taxes and social security contributions, on the other hand, have already been deducted. If one analyzes the SOEP data according to employment status, gender and education, the following characteristics emerge:

  • 55 percent the top 10 percent are male; at the household level, 70 percent of the main breadwinners are men.
  • 24 percent the top earners are employees with a highly skilled job.
  • About two thirds the top earners in the top 10 percent have a university degree - the average for all households is only 28 percent.
  • 48 percent of all top-earning households are couples without children or they have children who no longer live in the same household.
  • Around 760,000 Of the good eight million people who, according to their needs-weighted household net income, are among the top 10 percent of the income, are children - so fewer children live in these households than the average household.

The SOEP figures show that there is a fair amount of arguing about whether the top 10 percent of income earners can actually be described as rich. In analyzes of the gap between rich and poor, however, the income development of the poorest 10 percent compared to that of the richest tenth is often in the foreground.

Most Germans assume that at least 20 percent of the population is rich - in fact, it is between 7 and 8 percent.

But while the poverty line is a widespread convention - it affects those who have less than 60 percent of the median income - there is far less consensus on the thresholds for wealth.

Official statistics often show those with a relatively high income who have twice the needs-weighted median income. The median income divides all income earners into two groups of equal size - one half earns more, the other half less. And the needs weighting takes into account, for example, that children tend to need less money to cover their needs than adults or that a common household has cost advantages over a single household.

In 2017, the median income for a single person in Germany was 1,946 euros net per month, a couple without children came to 2,919 euros and a family with two children under 14 was 4,086 euros (Figure). If you double this income, that means:

A single person had a net income of around 3,890 euros or more in 2017, a couple without children living in the household added around 5,840 euros and a family with two children from just 8,200 euros.

With this net income, based on the SOEP data, one not only counted in the top 10 percent, but also in the top 7 percent.

However, if you ask German citizens from what income someone is one of the rich, the results are significantly higher (graphic):

For most German citizens, the limit of wealth is only exceeded with a monthly net income of 7,000 to 10,000 euros.

However, the subjective wealth limits vary greatly and depend not least on one's own income.

Only a few German citizens count themselves in the top decimal of income

It is also noticeable that very few Germans describe themselves as rich. In the case of a classification in a ten-point top-bottom scale in the general population survey of the social sciences in 2018, for example, only 1.2 percent sorted themselves into the tenth and thus top tier.

Basically, however, the German citizens have become more optimistic with regard to their personal classification in recent years: Almost half of the German population placed themselves in the seventh layer or higher in 2018 - in 2006 this was only the case for just under a quarter of German citizens.

Interestingly, the proportion of the rich in the total population is also overestimated (Figure): Even if most German citizens apply higher thresholds for wealth, their assessment that at least 20 percent of the population belongs to the rich is far from the statistical recording of wealth .