We've studied poverty, now let's study wealth

Numerous studies have examined poverty and the lot of poor people. Now Rainer Zitelman has studied the psychology of the super rich. His study, based on in depth interviews and questionnaires, looks at wealthy Germans who gained their wealth, not as employees of large corporations, but as entrepreneurs and investors.

It reveals significant factors. For example, the parents of 60 percent of them were self-employed, which is ten times the average for Germany. They were not necessarily rich, but they worked for themselves.

School or education did not play a key role in determining their future status as super rich, but extra-curricular activities did, notably competitive sports or entrepreneurial activity. As youngsters, they tended to be difficult, even rebellious, unwilling to subordinate themselves to authority or established organizations.

They all had sales skills in the broad sense: selling ideas, or selling themselves. They exhibited the ability to explain things clearly. They showed a pronounced optimism, and had early acceptance of high levels of risk. They were reliant on intuitive as well as analytical knowledge, and they showed a readiness to learn from experience and “turn the page” on negative experiences.

Zitelman’s research reveals that they had personality traits that went with success. They scored high in self-discipline and deliberation (advance planning). They tended to be conscientious (thorough, meticulous), as opposed to negligent or careless. They were hardworking as opposed to lazy. They tended to be well-organized, punctual, ambitious and persevering.

The upshot is that although luck, of course, plays some role in determining who will succeed, it mostly comes down to personality traits. They have drive and determination. They succeed because they have the qualities that often lead to success, and in doing so they create the wealth that enriches society as well as themselves.