Report: Affluent consumer habits, demographics and splurges

The assumption that wealthy consumers lead lives filled with frivolous,
frequent spending sprees is often inaccurate.

research from eMarketer on affluent
Americans reveals the makeup and behaviors of this sought-after segment are
nuanced and complex. Specifically, the demographics and spending habits of
the wealthy vary significantly from how they’re often portrayed.

Here are some key insights from the report:


Contrary to the idea of trust-fund playboys and kept women, affluent
Americans are more likely to be married and more likely to live in
households with two income-earning adults than the population at large, the
analysis found.

A poll from Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and
Democracy at Brigham Young University, as cited by eMarketer, found that 70
percent of Americans with a household income of $100,000+ were married,
compared with 55 percent of those with an income of $30,000–$99,999 and 25
percent of those with incomes under $30,000.

U.S. Bureau of Labor data cited by eMarketer shows that households in the
top income bracket ($200,000+ annual income) have an average of 2.1
earners; this compares with 1.3 earners among total households.
Affluent Consumers in 2018: Demographics and Spending Habits

A poll by Ipsos Affluent Intelligence Group, as cited by eMarketer, found
that 74 percent of wealthy adults identify as non-Hispanic white—down from
86 percent in 1992.

Older affluents are overwhelmingly white—90 percent of affluent seniors age
72+ identify as non-Hispanic white—the makeup of younger affluents is more
mixed. Fourteen percent of affluent millennials identify as Hispanic, 12
percent as Asian, and 7 percent as black.
Affluent Consumers in 2018: Demographics and Spending Habits

Financial security and discounts

Affluent Americans do not necessarily view themselves as financially
secure—and many are thrifty spenders—the report found.

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A PwC survey cited by eMarketer found that 28 percent of workers who earn
$100,000+ say they find it difficult to meet household expenses each month,
and 36 percent use credit cards to pay for necessities that they couldn’t
afford otherwise.

Moreover, a Harris Poll survey cited by eMarketer found that half of
respondents with an annual income of $100,000+ say they frequently worry
about their financial situation.
Affluent Consumers in 2018: Demographics and Spending Habits

A survey by Simmons Research, as cited by eMarketer, found that affluent
consumers are just as likely as non-affluent consumers to shop around to
take advantage of specials/bargains and to hold off on buying things until
they go on sale. However, affluent consumers are less likely than
non-affluent consumers to head right to the clearance rack when entering a
Affluent Consumers in 2018: Demographics and Spending Habits

Purchasing behavior and attitudes toward luxury

What do affluents spend their money on? It’s not generally caviar and Gucci

The biggest non-housing expenditure in most affluent households ($125,000+
annual income) is transportation payments (20 percent of spending, on
average). Home and garden products/services rank second (14 percent of
spending), followed by insurance costs (10 percent).
Affluent Consumers in 2018: Demographics and Spending Habits

Affluents do tend to spend more on education and travel. Households in the
$200,000+ annual income bracket spend an average of $6,743 per year on
educational expenses—more than double that of the $150,000–$199,999 group
($3,015) and more than triple that of the $100,000–$149,999 bracket

An MMGY Global survey cited by eMarketer found that 36 percent of affluents
($125,000+ annual income) identify as “luxury travelers” (i.e., they agree
with the statement: “It is worth paying more for the very best quality for
vacation accommodations and transportation”). Similarly, an Ipsos poll
cited by eMarketer found that 19 percent of affluents typically stay at
five-star accommodations, and 45 percent typically stay at four-star

Beyond travel, the analysis found that many affluent people are hesitant to
indulge in luxury purchases.

An Ipsos survey cited by eMarketer found six in 10 affluents ($100,000+
annual income) purchase luxury goods or services once a year or less, on
average, and 21 percent say they never purchase luxury goods or services.

This reluctance to indulge appears tied to the idea of financial
security—or lack thereof.

People in the $100,000+ bracket say they would want $111,000 in extra
annual income, on average, to feel comfortable buying luxury
products/services on a regular basis, and people in the $250,000+ bracket
say they would want an extra $179,000, on average, to feel comfortable.

So, what should marketers make of all this data?

  • First, you should not assume affluents are idle, with plenty of free
    time. Most are married, family-oriented and part of time-strapped,
    two-worker households.
  • Second, recognize that most affluents do not see themselves as affluent.
    Most high-income Americans are still concerned about paying the bills and
    do not feel their financial situation is secure.
  • Finally, do not assume that wealthy consumers are willing to spend
    frivolously. The bulk of affluents are working to earn their income and are
    not willing to part with it easily. They do occasionally indulge in
    luxury—especially on experiences such as travel—but for the most part they
    are careful with their spending.

Ultimately, affluent consumers tend to worry about money, shop around, and
wait for sales—in other words, they tend to behave remarkably similarly to
non-affluent consumers.

Michael Del Gigante is founder of MDG Advertising. A version of this post first ran on

MDG’s website

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