BATH, United Kingdom — Does it really take billions of dollars to “live your best life”? According to a new survey, most people think the answer is no. Researchers from the University of Bath have found that few people around the world actually want to become billionaires — which they believe is good for the planet.
The team says there has been a long-standing economic principle which states that “unlimited wants” are the motivating force for everyone on the planet. This keeps the world population running on a “consumerist treadmill” as they struggle to build more and more wealth for themselves and their families.
However, as society continues to build around the thought that everyone wants to become the richest person on Earth, researchers say this has “dire consequences” for the health and stability of the planet. Unending economic growth may lead to more wealth worldwide, but the study notes that it has also increased global pollution and the use of natural resources.
With that in mind, the team wanted to see if people worldwide really want all the things society thinks they want. They surveyed nearly 8,000 people in 33 countries on six continents. Specifically, study authors wanted to know what people thought they needed to achieve their “absolutely ideal life.”
Surprisingly, in 86 percent of the countries, the majority of respondents said they could live their best life with less than $10 million. In some countries, respondents said they could achieve this with less than $1 million!
While that may still sound like a lot to some people, it’s actually far less money when you consider that’s the amount people say they need over their entire life. Currently, the world’s richest person has more than $200 billion in the bank. According to the survey, that’s enough money to give 200,000 people their best possible life.
Who still wants to be a billionaire?
The researchers surveyed people about ideal wealth in a wide variety of countries with different cultural and societal philosophies, including Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Tunisia, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. The team also noted which country’s residents still see unlimited wealth as the ultimate goal in life.
They found younger people and city-dwellers in many countries are the most likely to have unlimited wants. These individuals tended to place more value on success, power, and independence. The dream of being a billionaire was also more common in nations where the people had a greater acceptance of inequality and in nations that were more collectivistic — meaning they focus more on group responsibilities than individual ones.
One example of this is Indonesia. Respondents here were the most likely to have unlimited wants.
“The ideology of unlimited wants, when portrayed as human nature, can create social pressure for people to buy more than they actually want,” says lead researcher Dr. Paul Bain from the Department of Psychology in a media release.
“Discovering that most people’s ideal lives are actually quite moderate could make it socially easier for people to behave in ways that are more aligned with what makes them genuinely happy and to support stronger policies to help safeguard the planet.”
“The findings are a stark reminder that the majority view is not necessarily reflected in policies that allow the accumulation of excessive amounts of wealth by a small number of individuals,” adds co-author Dr. Renata Bongiorno from the University of Exeter.
“If most people are striving for wealth that is limited, policies that support people’s more limited wants, such as a wealth tax to fund sustainability initiatives, might be more popular than is often portrayed.”
The findings appear in the journal Nature Sustainability.