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What does it take to be considered rich? The old million-dollar standard seems defunct now that this amount is often touted as a minimum that should be saved for a comfortable retirement. Let's look at some recent attempts to pinpoint the new standard of wealth.


In the movie "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," Dr. Evil, the villain frozen in the 1960s and thawed in modern times, tries to extort $1 million from the world's leaders -- and they all laugh. Dr. Evil later figures out that he needs to ask for much more money -- $1 million just isn't a significant sum. The bad doctor later ups his demand to a suitably sinister $100 billion.

Another popular reference to our changing standards of wealth occurs in "The Social Network," a 2010 movie about the founding of Facebook. A conversation between Justin Timberlake'sSean Parker character and Andrew Garfield'sEduardo Saverin character goes like this:

Sean Parker: You know what's cooler than a million dollars?

Eduardo Saverin: You?

Sean Parker: A billion dollars.

The exchange occurs at a pivotal point in the movie when Facebook has proved successful but has not yet hit it big and the protagonists are considering the website's future. Parker's remarks seem to reflect the changing standard of wealth -- no longer is it enough to become a millionaire. Now it takes a billion dollars to truly impress.

A billion dollars has also become the standard of great success at the box office. The highest-grossing movies of all time, "Avatar" and "Titanic," each made significantly more than $1 billion in worldwide box office receipts. So did "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Toy Story 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Dark Knight."

Forbes' list

When Forbes began compiling its lists of the 400 richest Americans in 1982, just 13 of those people were billionaires. In 2011, Forbes tallied up 1,120 billionaires for its annual list of the world's wealthiest. The highest-ranked person, Carlos Slim Helú, was worth $74 billion.

While a few familiar names graced the bottom of the Forbes list, like J.K. Rowling and James Dyson, many of these mere billionaires -- and even some of the richest people on the list -- were relatively obscure. You didn't have to be a Warren Buffett or a Sergey Brin to find yourself at the top.


A 2008 book titled "The Middle-Class Millionaire" states that 8.4 million Americans have a net worth between $1 million and $10 million, including home equity. We can assume that many people have fallen out of this category with the decline in home values since the book was written, but the idea that you can be a millionaire, or even a multimillionaire, and still be middle class shows how times have changed.

There are numerous books for sale with "billionaire" in the title. Claiming to teach ordinary readers how to achieve ultrariches are these popular titles (to name just a few) in the business and investing category: "Trump Strategies for | Real Estate: Billionaire Lessons for the Small Investor," "Think Like a Billionaire, Become a Billionaire" and "Blueprint | to a Billion: 7 Essentials to Achieve Exponential Growth." Even top-selling children's books like "The Billionaire's Curse," "Mr. Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire" and "Billionaire Boy" make a billion dollars the new standard to aspire to.


Travie McCoy's hit song, "Billionaire," describes what the singer would do if he had a billion dollars: adopt lots of children, give away several Mercedes, revitalize New Orleans and fix the economy, among other feats. The song spent 20 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, peaking at No.4.

Setting aside the fact that a billion dollars wouldn't come close to cleaning up after a natural disaster or getting the economy pumping again, the song sends the message that it takes a billion dollars if you really want to make a big difference.


A million dollars might not even buy you a house in one of America's 10 most expensive cities for real estate, according to MarketWatch. The most expensive city on the list, Newport Beach, Calif., had an average list price of $2.5 million for a four-bedroom, two-bath home, while the least expensive on the list, Cupertino, Calif., had an average list price of $1.4 million. And some surveys of wealth don't even include home equity in assessing people's net worth.

The annual World Wealth Report defines high-net-worth individuals as "those having investable assets of U.S. $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables and consumer durables."

Professional sports

In a Forbes list of the world's most-valulable sports teams, 24 teams worth $1 billion or more. Soccer's Manchester United topped the list at $1.86 billion. The National Football League's Dallas Cowboys came in second, at $1.81 billion.

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Despite the struggling eceonomy, Forbes' most recent list had 22 entries: Joining Man-U and the Cowboys were 15 additional NFL teams, Major League Baseball's New York Yankees (at No. 3), the Ferrari race team (No. 13) and four more soccer teams.

The bottom line

For many people, having a net worth of $1 million or even $100,000 still seems unattainable, yet these days neither figure is likely to impress anyone unless it was attained at a young age. Of course, even then, you'll be competing with the legacies of Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom were multimillionaires or billionaires before they turned 30.