MOSCOW – There is supposedly an old Dutch proverb that says: “To get rich, you have to be thrifty.” This is probably a more recent invention, not old folk wisdom, but it certainly expresses the bourgeois stereotype: saving, accumulating capital, and investing.
In the modern world, however, people see the path to wealth differently – there are several ways to get rich. For example, according to the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, in the United States 20% of people think they can get rich by starting their own business, while another 20% believe the best way to get rich is by landing a high-paying job. Saving and investing in the stock market or real estate are no longer considered by Americans to be the best route to riches. But 15% of Americans believe luck can help them get rich in the form of winning the lottery or getting a big inheritance.
Things are different in Russia. According to a report published on Nov. 8, 23% of Russians think they could get rich through an inheritance, compared to 17% who thought the same in 2005. Does this really mean that so many Russian citizens seriously believe they have an unknown aunt in Finland who is about to die and make them rich? More likely, the increase in the number of people believing in inheritance as a good way to get rich has more to do with disillusion towards other ways to make it, and lack of faith in the possibility of climbing the social ladder.
About 17% of Russians also think that marrying a wealthy person is a good way to get rich. That number hasn’t changed much in seven years, but what is interesting is that in 2005, a higher proportion of women answered that marriage was a good way to riches.
According to the survey authors, “Either woman have become less interested in money, or they have started earning more.” There’s another possible explanation: Women are more adaptable and have figured out that dreaming about a rich husband isn’t realistic. There just aren’t enough rich guys for everyone.
The survey also discovered that fewer people – 15% instead of 18% – see working for the government as a way to get rich quick. This question in itself would deserve a separate study. It’s possible that people believe that all the good channels for administrative dividends have been bought up and the only things left are grunt work.
That hypothesis is perhaps confirmed by the fact that less people see working for big companies as a way to get rich than they did seven years ago. The survey said that less and less people believe they could advance quickly at a large company. And the idea that Russians dream of working for gas giant Gasprom, according to the survey, is a myth.
Another myth is that Russians see creating a business as a way to become prosperous -- only 16% see that as a good option, although that is more than seven years ago.
In fact, 15% of Russians don’t see any way at all to get rich. Seven years ago, only 8% saw their economic outlook so bleakly.
According to the survey authors, there are two main lessons from the survey. First of all, there is increasing fatalism when it comes to getting rich, meaning people don’t believe that it is in their control. Secondly, there also seems to have been a devaluation of work. In fact there’s a Russian saying that addresses that: “Honest work won’t get you a palace.”
On the other hand, there are other, more positive interpretations. Becoming rich overnight, like in the 1990s, is no longer possible, and people are finally realizing that. In that sense we are becoming a more normal society.
But actually, we are still far from being a normal society. Too many people seem to think that neither saving money nor successful investments nor a good education will help one get rich. It's a picture that seems more appropriate for a third world country. It doesn’t jive with a modern, innovative future or with economic growth in general.