February 15, 2012

Rich Is Relative

Rich or Poor?
Deciding who is 'rich' is a highly relative undertaking, and one that many obsess about. Where you fall on the richness scale depends a lot on where you live. Calculating where I rank in income in North America, where I live, is enormously different than calculating where I fall globally. It is enough to give one a split personality.

On the North American Rich-O-Meter I am at the bottom, with 94% of people having incomes higher than my own. I am semi-retired, so my income is low, but even if I include total expenses for the year, I find that 78% of the population is still richer than I am.

I am at the bottom of the rich scale when compared to my neighbours. Some people might find this rather distressing, but I rather like it. Check out the North American Rich-O-Meter here.

If you checked your ranking, and didn't like what you saw, fear not. Another income meter may change that - the Global Rich List is certain to make you feel better. Or not. Either way, it is a pretty sobering comparison.

Using my modest annual family income, the same number that put me at the poverty level in North America, tells a very different story globally. The global rich-o-meter calculates that I am in the top 14% of global income earners, and among the richest people in the world. Calculating my position on the rich list using total annual spending puts me into the top 12% globally.

In comparison, to join the top 12% of earners in North America, I would need over 10 times the annual income. See the Global Rich List here.

So am I living in poverty, or am I rich? It is all relative, and when it comes down to it, it is my perception of my experience that determines how I feel about it. One's ranking on the rich scale has little to do with happiness, which depends on many things other than money.

Income, personal wealth, and material possessions mean very little when it comes right down to it. This lesson is taught to us over and over and over by very wealthy individuals that tragically struggle to find happiness, in spite of being able to afford virtually anything they want.

Happiness is what is truly important in the end, but there are obvious issues of inequality that threaten everyone's happiness if left unaddressed. We ignore them at our peril.


Three billion people live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. - from Global Rich List


  1. Yes, every time I look longingly at what others have I have to remind myself that I'm among the wealthiest in the world. It's sobering. It's hard for my son to understand this, but I'm thinking I should take him to do some volunteer work in a third world country some time to give him a reality check. He's spoiled and doesn't know it.

    1. We have all been spoiled, and it has cost us dearly. The fantastic book "Material World" by Peter Menzel is eye opening.

      In the book Menzel took pictures of families around the world standing with their possessions around them. Wow.

      We are so insulated from how other people in the world are living. It seems to me that if we knew, we would all live quite differently.

      But we DO know...

  2. e.a.f.2/17/2012

    I enjoyed the column. You are quite right about Canadians being in the top % of wealth owners, however Canada does have its own real poverty.

    The race for material goods has gotten in the way of having a meaningful life. I found that out when I retired & my income dropped by 30K a yr. I didn't notice it. I wasn't unhappy. I was more relaxed, enjoyed being outside. I took a good look at the things I owned and realized how lovely they were and didn't need anything else.

    I found your blog by accident some time ago and started reading it. I've found it entertaining and educational.

    The articles on the Tiny Homes are great. It clearly demonstrates homelessness is not expensive to solve it just requires political will.


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