Have you ever wondered if success is in your future?
If you’re like me, then you’ve thought about what the future has in store for you more than once — will you rise above your station, or live an average life like the majority of people?
Through researching the top 10 richest people in the world in 2022, I have finally figured out the qualities that make people favourable to / successful in our society.
The white, cisgender, heterosexual, neurotypical, able bodied men need no introduction, since, although the description is seemingly unending, most of us are familiar with the characteristics that the majority of people in power possess. Let me now helpfully outline these characteristics and explain why certain people are more likely excel in life than others:
Of the 10 richest people in the world, only 2 are not white; Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani — both Indian — are the only exceptions on the list. This is shocking, considering that Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group worldwide; white people don’t even make up the majority of the global population, and yet, they make up the majority of the richest people in the world. However, white people’s ‘successes’ become more easily understood with the added context of the centuries of white Europeans colonising land and prohibiting other countries’ progress throughout history. The British Empire, for example, was at its largest in 1919, covering 25% of the earth’s total land area. This stunted other countries’ growth economically, while Britain reaped the rewards of labour that wasn’t their own. Now, many European countries have advanced because of this stolen wealth and labour, making the people of those colonised countries having to work exponentially harder just to have to chance of accumulating any wealth. So, in reference to the richest people, it is frankly unsurprising that 80% of them have a white European ancestry.
In addition to race, gender also sadly plays a monumental part in influencing people’s futures. Almost unsurprisingly, all of the 10 richest people are cisgender men (this term, ‘cisgender’, meaning that they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth — or, more simply, that they aren’t transgender or non-binary). Trans and non-binary people face so much harassment and discrimination that can negatively affect their education and job opportunities, often making them less likely to achieve the same sorts of success later on in life. To put it even more simply, all 10 of these richest people are men, who, because of their gender, are born into a world that favours their success, as a result of centuries of patriarchal authority and privilege. Although women (mainly in the Western world) are now gaining more rights and are becoming more equal to men — though this was likely only really through actions like the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, which ensured that at least some steps towards equality would be taken — there is still a long way to go before we can achieve complete gender equality. Currently, the richest woman in the world is Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the 14th richest person, who, despite being an impressive writer and businesswoman in her own right, gained most of her wealth through inheritance, as she was a billionaire heiress.
In addition, heterosexuality is seen as more acceptable than other sexualities such as being gay or bisexual. This also relates to femininity being perceived as something that can and should limit someone’s success, a mindset a lot of people unfortunately still have to this day. This interlinks with homosexuality, because the stereotypical depiction of gay men is that they are: flamboyant, weak, effeminate. These are traits many men try to avoid portraying in order to ‘maintain’ their own masculinity; traits that men will often mock others for having. So, being openly gay can be incredibly difficult for men, especially those who are striving to advance in society and generate wealth and success for themselves. Not only do you have to be a man to make it big, but a ‘manly’ man in particular.
Another aspect of people’s lives, that perhaps doesn’t get discussed as much as issues of racism and sexism, is disability. Physical disabilities and neurodiversity, like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, epilepsy and Tourette’s can also limit people’s chances of success in life. 14.6 million people in the UK have a disability. While physical impairments are more noticeable, society doesn’t make it easy for anyone with any kind of disability to achieve very highly at all. That’s not to say, however, that it can’t be done! There have been many influential people with disabilities like Thomas Edison, Stephen Hawking, or Louis Pasteur. But, as far as the richest people currently in the world go, only 2 have explicitly stated that they have a disability of some kind. Elon Musk has explained that he has autism, for example. It’s simultaneously inspiring and tragic that, before his now-global success, he had to endure so much harsh bullying and harassment as a child because of his autism. This is one example of how people with disabilities may find it more difficult to navigate the world than neurotypical and/or able-bodied people. There is also little discussion around the topic of disability, which in turn makes it harder for those who are potentially struggling to reach out for help.
While these are some of the main physical factors that could play a part in who society favours, there are also other qualities that are arguably equally relevant. Age, sexuality and being born into wealth can all sway one’s likelihood of making it to a high status. All of the 10 men are above the age of 49, and are all in heterosexual relationships with women.
Perhaps all of these qualities play a part, or perhaps it’s just pure chance that patterns around who gets rich have emerged.
Hopefully, the future can provide a more diverse list of the richest and most successful people. Seeing diversity can inspire those who feel ‘different’, or who don’t see much of a future for themselves, to keep going. Differences in race, gender, sexuality, shouldn’t stop someone from realising their potential and pursuing their ambitions. Even if their ambitions are unrelated to money.
Seeing diversity can also help people to understand others and embrace uniqueness of any kind. Will the list of richest people change any time soon?
We’ll just have to wait and see…or be proactive, and become the richest people ourselves!
By Katie Andrews, student