The elderly inherit, not the meek, as thrift leads to record number of millionaires

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The meek are not inheriting the earth - the elderly are. According to new research into the distribution of wealth in the United Kingdom, one in 550 adults is a millionaire, and the fastest-growing group are pensioners.

More than 81,000 people are now classed as millionaires, the most in history, and, for the first time, the number who have grown rich by graft and thrift has overtaken those who have inherited wealth.

The research, by Datamonitor, a strategic management consultancy, shows that the number of millionaires - people with net, unencumbered assets over pounds 1m and pounds 50,000 in liquid assets - has more than doubled since 1991 when the figure stood at 31,100.

More than 19,000 of those are over 65, but only 17,000 out of the total of 81,000 inherited their money.

"This shows a major shift in wealth reflecting people's concerns about providing for themselves in their old age, rather than relying on state provision," said Harsha Yogasundram, an analyst at Data- monitor.

"People are saving more and investing more, a trend which is resulting in the elderly having more spending power than before.

"People who inherit their money still form a large proportion of millionaires, but it is a shrinking proportion."

Datamonitor's figures, gleaned from public records at the Inland Revenue, the Central Statistical Office and the Office of National Statistics, show that in 1991, 8.2 per cent of millionaires were elderly - over 65 - compared with 9.5 per cent who were inheritors.

By 1995, the balance had shifted to 19.1 per cent elderly and 16.8 per cent inheritors.

Of all millionaires, 24 per cent are elderly, almost 21 per cent inherited their wealth and 12 per cent saved it from highly paid employment. Last year, of the 10,000 new millionaires, 2,000 were elderly, 1,200 were inheritors and 810 were workers.

There is also a small, but increasingly significant, group who have gained their wealth through the National Lottery. By the end of 1996, there were 288 lottery millionaires; the figure now is nearer 300.

The research does not, however, look at the strikingly obvious - the fact that more millionaires at the top must equate to more poor people at the bottom.

Datamonitor is preparing new research on what it calls the "middle bracket" of earners, those with pounds 10,000 to pounds 100,000.

However, asked whether a third piece of research would be forthcoming on the poor, Datamonitor said no. "There's not much call for that," said Mr Yogasundram.

Just as well. The price for a copy of the latest report, UK High Net Worth Individuals 1997, is pounds 1,495.