What Is a Millionaire?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2019
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A millionaire is a person who has wealth equal to one million times the basic unit of currency. Historically, a millionaire is typically believed capable of permanently living in a state of luxury, though modern-day cost of living increases have diminished the buying capabilities of a millionaire considerably. A person may become a millionaire through inheritance, careful savings, a windfall, or a combination of assets and income.

Until the 18th century, the status of millionaire was typically reserved for nobility and royalty. In much of the world, society prevented social mobility between classes, meaning that a person born a peasant would very likely marry a peasant and remain a peasant until death. Likewise, rich families arranged marriages to help store up wealth and power, meaning that the majority of wealth stayed tightly contained in the upper classes. With the colonization of America and the waning of aristocracy throughout much of the world, merchant classes began to experience dramatic increases in wealth. The fortunes of merchants and business owners soon began to outdistance the capabilities of inherited wealth, leading to a growing class of working millionaires.


Some of the most famous millionaires in history are known for their remarkable wealth and business acumen. The great steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie, enjoyed fabulous wealth, but also popularized the idea of philanthropy. Madam CJ Walker, the daughter of freed slaves, started a cosmetics business and became the one of the first female African-American millionaires. Mark Zuckerburg dropped out of college to pursue his dream of building a social networking website, and became one of the wealthiest men on the planet in the early 21st century.

Inflation throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has lead to a wide increase in the number of millionaires worldwide. According to some reports in 2009, the global population of millionaires hovers around 10 million people. Many of these individuals possess far more than the one million units required to be called a millionaire; similar reports list about 93,000 individuals worldwide that possess more than 30 times this amount.

Becoming a millionaire can be a matter of hard work, luck, or even being born into a wealthy family. People may become millionaires through game shows, lotteries, or even raffles. Children of wealthy families may become millionaires through inheritance, sometimes before even entering adulthood. Many others become millionaires through hard work at a good-paying job, careful management of expenses, and wise investment decisions. Cultivating these habits can not only help a person become a millionaire, but can also ensure that he or she does not squander the money once it is earned.


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