Just 40 years ago, a $2 billion net worth would put you at the top of Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest people in America. In 1983, Forbes crowned Gordon Getty America’s Richest American with a net worth of just $2.2 billion.
You’d probably consider anyone with one billion dollars to their name “rich,” but the amount of money one needs to become the richest person in the country has increased significantly in the last four decades.
In 2023, you would need close to $3 billion just to crack the top 400. And securing the top spot would require quite a few billion more.
Elon Musk earned the title for the second year in a row with a net worth of $251 billion, roughly the same as what was reported on last year’s list.
Today’s richest person is 125 times richer than the ‘first’ richest person was
Forbes began publishing its annual list of the 400 richest people in America in 1982. At the time, shipping entrepreneur Daniel Ludwig took top spot with a net worth of $2 billion, according to the publication.
The net worth of each richest person who followed rose steadily, but didn’t eclipse $10 billion until 1995 when Bill Gates, in his third year at the top, reported a net worth of $15 billion. Gates would continue sitting on the top of the rankings until 2018, when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took over as America’s richest.
2013: Bill Gates, $72 billion
2014: Bill Gates, $82 billion
2015: Bill Gates, $76 billion
2016: Bill Gates, $81 billion
2017: Bill Gates, $89 billion
2018: Jeff Bezos, $160 billion
2019: Jeff Bezos, $114 billion
2020: Jeff Bezos, $179 billion
2021: Jeff Bezos, $201 billion
2022: Elon Musk, $251 billion
2023: Elon Musk, $251 billion
In 2017, his last year at the top of the Forbes list, Gates had a net worth of $89 billion. Bezos nearly doubled that amount and earned the No. 1 spot in 2018 with a net worth of $160 billion. That also made Bezos the first richest person in the U.S. to have a net worth over $100 billion.
He hit a similar milestone in 2021 with a net worth of $201 billion, keeping his spot atop the ranking.
That brings us to Musk’s ascension to the “richest in America” throne in 2022. His net worth of $251 billion last year beat Bezos by a cool $100 billion. Bezos is closing the gap, though. While Musk’s net worth remained the same in 2023 according to Forbes, Bezos’ grew by $10 billion, leaving him just $90 billion behind the Space X founder.
It may not be an easy gap to close, but it will be much easier for Bezos than most Americans. U.S. households have a median net worth of just $166,900 according to Census Bureau data. It would take around 1.5 million households with that net worth to match Musk’s fortune.