I Have 12 Years Left to Become Rich

I hope you checked Slate today, because it is running one of the best headlines I’ve seen in a while: If You Aren’t Rich By 45, Give Up.

Give up what? I immediately want to know. Your career? Your ambitions? Your hope of retirement? Your family? Your integration into society? Is Slate suggesting some kind of Logan’s Run thing here?

Turns out Slate is simply saying “if you aren’t rich by 45, give up your hopes of becoming rich.” Here’s their argument:

For the rich and poor alike, the [Federal Reserve] economists found that “the bulk of earnings growth” happens in the first 10 years of work, typically between the ages of 25 and 35. During the next decade of their career, men can expect smaller raises overall. After 45, those in the bottom 90 percent of lifetime earners see their earnings decline as a group, in part because people often start cutting back their hours around that time, especially if they do manual labor for a living. Meanwhile, even 1 percenters only see relatively minor pay bumps after middle age.

Wait, the bulk of my earnings growth has already happened? I don’t believe it. No — I can’t believe it. Here’s a rough cut of my earnings data, starting at age 21 (remember, I’m working many different jobs during this time):

21: broke

22: broke

23: broke

24: broke

25: broke

26: broke

27: good salaried job

28: good salaried job, saved $10K

29: good salaried job

30: good salaried job

31: the “touring musician year” aka DEBT TIME

32: making good-enough money as a freelance writer

33: making good money as a freelance writer

Although I can support myself, I’m nowhere near “rich,” and I had never thought of that as necessarily being a goal until Slate told me I had two more years to set up the foundation for wealth and a decade after that to ensure it happens.

I have a few questions about this Slate piece, of course. First, they state right at at the beginning that this study only applies to men. They don’t say “well, we can’t look at women’s earnings because they often fluctuate with child-raising responsibilities and that would ruin the point we’re trying to make here,” but I’d like a better look at how this theoretical “bulk of earnings growth” shakes down when you consider both men and women’s experiences, as well as both men and women’s childcare, eldercare, personal health care, and other out-of-office responsibilities.

Not all of us can ride our career like it’s an escalator going to the 45th floor, after all.

I’d also like to look at other ways of becoming rich. Like marriage. I’ve pretty much accepted that the only way I’m going to jump into a higher income bracket is through 1) the windfall theory or 2) marrying Mr. Darcy. So I want to know how many people do that, and whether it happens before or after age 45. How many years do I have left to hook a rich husband, Slate?

Also, while we’re on the subject, how that “bulk of earnings growth” is affected by divorce, remarriage, relocation, giving up your salaried job to move to Los Angeles to be with a boyfriend, those kinds of things.

I mean, the point Slate is trying to make here is that, at a certain point, you probably aren’t going to get big raises anymore. Certainly not like the raises you got between ages 20 and 30, when most of us essentially go from “no income” to “some kind of livable income, based on various definitions of the word livable.”

But don’t give up. I mean, I wouldn’t advise “wanting to be rich” as a life goal, but don’t give up on your dreams either.

Not even if you’re — gasp! — 45 years old.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.