Affluent Americans are less ethnically diverse than the U.S. population as a whole, but they nevertheless reflect a tremendous diversity of culture, language, and national origin.

Census data reveal that 68% of American adults are non-Hispanic whites.  Hispanics (14%) are the largest ethnic minority group, followed by African-Americans (12%) and Asians (5%).  Among Affluents (those with a household income of at least $100,000), 77% are non-Hispanic whites, and the three major ethnic minorities are roughly equal in size, each comprising 7-9% of the Affluent population.  In relative terms, Hispanics and African-Americans are under-represented (less prevalent among Affluents than among the general population), while Asians are slightly over-represented.

This pattern becomes more pronounced further up the financial hierarchy.  Looking at adults in U.S. households with at least $250,000 in household income, we find a still-substantial 17 percent who identify with some non-majority ethnic or cultural group.  The under-representation of Hispanics and African-Americans is even more marked in the $250,000+ HHI group, while Asians maintain their slight over-representation.

Results from our 2011 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey confirm the diversity of Affluents and reveal the central roles of culture and ethnicity in their lives.  Among Affluents as a whole, 39% agree "My cultural or ethnic heritage is a very important part of my life," a figure that rises to 60% among affluent Hispanics, 70% among affluent Asians, and 74% among affluent Blacks.

The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey also reveals linguistic diversity, finding that 15% of Affluents speak a language other than English in the home.  Among that 15%, 6% speak Spanish, while the remaining 9% are distributed across more than a dozen languages, including (in alphabetical order) Arabic, Cantonese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Tagalog, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese.  Interestingly, among the $250,000+ household income group, 20% — slightly more than among Affluents as a whole — speak a non-English language at home.

The portrait of Affluent America that emerges is one of a distinct majority accompanied by tremendous diversity in origin and ethnicity.  Affluent America, like America as a whole, is a melting pot that attracts people from every region of the world, many of whom pursue financial success here while maintaining the traditions and language of their country of origin.

About The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey: For 35 years, The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey has tracked the lives, lifestyles, media habits, and purchase patterns of affluent Americans.  Our 2011 survey had a sample size of 14,405 adults living in households with at least $100,000 in annual household income.  This sample projects to a population of 58.5 million affluent adults (just 21% of U.S. households, they hold 70% of U.S. net worth).  The survey uses a rigorous mail methodology and probabilistic sampling approach.  It is conducted only in English, as studies have shown that most Affluents in America speak English.  Obviously, offering the survey only in English tends, if anything, to understate diversity.

Stephen Kraus is Chief Research and Insights Officer of Ipsos MediaCT.  In this role, he leads the design, analysis and interpretation of The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey. With over twenty years of market research experience, Kraus provides research and consulting services to some of the world’s most successful companies. Kraus was co-author of “The New Elite: Inside the Minds of the Truly Wealthy” and author of “Selling to the New Elite: Discover the Secret to Winning over Your Wealthiest Prospects”. Kraus received his Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University.

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