Who wants to be a millionaire? Asian edition
Choose your birthplace carefully if you wish to be among the millionaires of the Asia-Pacific region. This is the obvious conclusion to data compiled by The Economist, showing the time taken to reach millionaire status, based on pre-tax median household income, ranges from more than three centuries in Mexico to barely 20 years in the US.In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia was the next quickest for households followed by Japan and South Korea, with China lagging well behind.
However, a different study offered better news for the region's aspiring rich. According to Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, the Asia-Pacific region had 3.37 million millionaires compared with 3.35 million in the US and 3.17 million in Europe; 2011 was the first time that Asia-Pacific millionaires outstripped those in the US.
In the Asia-Pacific, the number of such "high net worth individuals" - with assets excluding primary residence of more than US$1 million (Bt29.9 million) - grew by 0.8 per cent in 2011, twice the global average.
Japan made up more than half the region's millionaires, with the number increasing by 4.8 per cent despite the March 2011 disasters. The number of Chinese millionaires rose by 5.2 per cent to account for 17 per cent of the total, while resource-rich Australia accounted for 5 per cent.
That being said, the rise in wealthy individuals did not occur uniformly across the region. Indeed the number of millionaires actually declined in Hong Kong and India, while gaining in China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Even if fewer in number, the total investable wealth of rich Americans still outstripped the Asia-Pacific region, with American millionaires hoarding $11.4 trillion compared to their Asian counterparts' $10.7 trillion.
Political connections have undoubtedly helped the region's ruling elites accumulate vast wealth. However, according to Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management's report, entrepreneurship and commerce are the main drivers of wealth, led in recent years by the healthcare, information technology, automobile and infrastructure industries.
For those looking to the next lucrative business opportunity, the authors predict future wealth growth will likely come from financial services, education, healthcare and value-added manufacturing.
In India, e-commerce and healthcare are expected to produce more millionaires, with financial services and mining reigning supreme in Australia. And in South Korea, government-led initiatives boosting the growth of key industries are expected to support gains in wealth.
For those aspiring to join Asia's rich list, there are plenty of examples of self-made millionaires along with those "born with a silver spoon". According to Forbes, Japan's richest man in 2012 was Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai, with a net worth of $10.6 billion, followed by Nobutada Saji, third-generation owner of the Suntory drinks business, who's worth was estimated at $7.9 billion. In third place was SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son's $6.9-billion, followed closely by online shopping mall operator Rakuten's Hiroshi Mikitani, who is estimated to hold $6.3 billion.
In China, Zong Qinghou of beverages giant Wahaha topped the rich list with $10 billion, followed by Robin Li of search engine Baidu's $8.1 billion, real estate developer Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda Group with $8 billion, and Internet entrepreneur Ma Huateng with $6.4 billion.
Perhaps aided by a lack of inheritance taxes, Australia's richest include a number of individuals who inherited their wealth, such as Gina Rinehart with an estimated fortune of $17 billion, and third-ranked James Packer with $5.8 billion.
Recent studies have shown that while economics' law of diminishing returns affects material wealth - another Porsche is less enjoyable when you already have five - richer countries are on the whole happier than poorer ones.
However, inequality could act as "a tax on happiness" by dragging down the overall mood. In other words, making your fortune in one of the region's less inequitable societies could be much more fun than being one of a few in an emerging economy. But as many would say, that's a nice problem to have.