The Forbes 400 Self-Made Score 2021: From Silver Spooners To Bootstrappers
Some billionaires have come a long way to The Forbes 400. Others, not so much.
It’s not easy to make The Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America. But it’s much easier for some than for others. That’s why, in 2014, Forbes began assigning each billionaire a self-made score to better show just how far the country’s wealthiest people have had to travel to become a member of the ultra-rich.
Broadly, a score of 1 to 5 means an individual inherited their wealth, while 6 to10 indicates they built their own company or established their fortune on their own.
A score of 1, for example, means that someone inherited their fortune and hasn’t actively worked to increase it. This includes super-rich heirs such as Alice Walton and Lukas Walton, the daughter and a grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, respectively. Only 26 people on The Forbes 400 scored a 1 this year, accounting for 6.5% of the list.
Conversely, a score of 10 indicates that someone was born into poverty or the lower middle class, and faced substantial adversity or discrimination. Newcomer Noubar Afeyan, chairman and cofounder of Covid vaccine-maker Moderna, is an example of this. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Armenian parents, he and his family fled the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.
This year, only 118 people on The Forbes 400 scored a 1 through 5, which means that 70.5% of the list is self-made. It’s a significant shift from 1984, when less than half of the list was self-made. Still, much of the list—160 people—comprises people who scored an 8, indicating they are self-made, but came from a middle-class or upper-middle-class background. In other words, even many of the self-made members of The Forbes 400 grew up with at least some advantages in life. The four richest people in the U.S.—Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates—all have 8s.