In this land of opportunity, Americans may believe that it's harder to get rich than it used to be. But when asked about the likelihood of getting rich personally, one-third say it's very or somewhat likely that they will attain wealth because of their work, investments, inheritance or good luck.
On the other hand, six out of 10 (63 percent) say it's not too or not at all likely they'll get rich. Just 2 percent volunteered that they're already rich.
Bankrate commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to explore how people feel about their chances for prosperity, as well as how they define wealth and their motivations for pursuing it.
Hope springs eternal -- for the young. More than half of those aged 18 to 29 (54 percent), believe they will get rich. Meanwhile, cynicism sets in with the passage of time. Only 34 percent of respondents in the 30 to 49 age range believe they will be rich, while one out of five (21 percent) in the 50-plus age group think so.
How would you define rich?
What is rich, anyway?Most people don't equate wealth with a yacht in the Mediterranean and a house on every continent. A meager 7 percent of respondents define "rich" by possessions such as houses, cars and boats.
Instead, rich means having just enough money not to worry, to at least one-third of Americans (33 percent), according to the survey. That's a subjective definition that varies with lifestyle and attitude. Another 26 percent define rich as having enough money to quit their jobs.
"I think there is a paradox about it. People could live smaller than they do. There are a lot of McMansion inhabitants who could do that if they wanted to, but they slide on the golden handcuffs, and that is part of what keeps you from feeling rich," says Peter Rodriguez, associate professor of business administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
Few people put a dollar amount on the definition of wealth. Just 17 percent say that being rich means having a net worth of $1 million or more, and 11 percent say that a six-figure annual income makes someone rich.
Most people who are rich don't even consider themselves rich. It's a relational feeling, says Rodriguez.
"For example, you take someone who has been earning $40,000 a year and bump them up to $100,000 -- they feel rich. Even if they increase their lifestyle, they don't have to worry about their old bills anymore. But if you take someone who is making $150,000, they feel poor unless they make $300,000," he says.
How to get richOne-fifth of Americans (20 percent) believe that starting your own business is the most likely way for someone to get rich today.
History supports that assumption. Most self-made millionaires are small business owners, says Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's senior financial analyst.
Choosing a high-paying job or career comes in second (19 percent) as the most likely path to getting rich.
Unfortunately for most people, having a high-paying job is the ticket to an expensive lifestyle and nothing more lasting, says Todd Tresidder, a financial coach at FinancialMentor.com and self-made millionaire.