How much money do you need to lead your “absolutely ideal life”? The answer for most people, according to new research by university psychologists, is $10m (£8.6m) – but not Americans, who say they need at least $100m, and frequently insist on $100bn.
Academics at the universities of Bath, Bath Spa and Exeter found that contrary to the assumption that everyone wants to be as rich as possible, most people say they would be happy with a few million.
A study of almost 8,000 people from across the world found that in 86% of countries the majority of people thought they could achieve their ideal life with $10m or less.
Lottery prize chart
In Argentina, India and Russia more than 50% of people said they would like $1m or less. However, in the US the majority of people said they would need at least $100m or more to lead an ideal life, with 31.7% (the most popular response) saying that they would like at least $100bn.
In the UK, the most popular answer (26%) was $1m and the majority said $10m or less would be adequate. Thirteen per cent said they would like $100bn or more.
“A founding economic principle that everyone is motivated by ‘unlimited wants’, stuck on a consumerist treadmill and striving to accumulate as much wealth as they can, is untrue,” the study published in Nature Sustainability said. “[The] belief in this principle has also had dire consequences for the health of the planet. Striving to continually increase individual wealth, and pursuing unending economic growth, has come at a heavy cost. As wealth has increased, so too has resource use and pollution.”
Dr Paul Bain, the lead researcher and a reader at the department of psychology at the University of Bath, said that while the figures in the typical responses sound like a lot of money, “when considered that they represent a person’s ideal wealth across their whole life they are relatively moderate”.
“The ideology of unlimited wants, when portrayed as human nature, can create social pressure for people to buy more than they actually want,” he said. “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.”
Dr Renata Bongiorno, a co-author of the report and social psychologist at Bath Spa University and the University of Exeter, said: “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.
“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.”
A growing coalition of politicians and opinion formers are calling for the introduction of wealth taxes across the world to help close the “staggering” gap between the richest and poorest in society.
Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, has called on the UK government to impose a wealth tax on the super-rich to help tackle “spiralling inequality”, which he said was “deeply damaging to our collective morale and trust”.
“Spiralling inequality is a major issue in our society, and all the evidence suggests this is deeply damaging to our collective morale and trust,” Williams said. “A wealth tax of the kind we are backing recognises that vastly disproportionate rewards for a very small number of citizens will not make for a cohesive and just national community.”
Williams told the super-rich they should not view paying back to wider society as a tax burden but as “an opportunity to build a stable, sustainable economy that works for everyone”.
Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk
Government figures show the richest 1% of households in the UK each have at least £3.6m. At the other end of the scale, the poorest 10% of households have £15,400 or less, with almost half burdened with more debts than they have in assets, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics.
A wealth tax on the top 1% could generate at least £70bn a year, according to research by Greenwich University. That would be equivalent to 8% of the current total tax take but would affect only about 250,000 households.
The Wealth Tax Commission, set up in 2020 to consider the costs and benefits of imposing a wealth tax, recommended a one-off 1% tax on households with more than £1m. It said the tax would generate £260bn – more than enough to cover a year’s funding of the NHS and social care spending.