There’s never been a bad time to be a billionaire, but the last year might’ve been the best time for a long time. While the COVID pandemic sent the vast majority of the world into a financial tailspin, the lucky few billionaires at the very top saw their wealth skyrocket, resulting in some staggering figures from the Forbes Billionaire’s list for 2021. When added all together, the combined total net worth of the 2,755 list makers is an astounding $13.1 trillion dollars, which is good for more than 60% of the world’s total wealth. Of the 2,755 names featured, a record 493 of them appeared on the list for the first time (smashing the previous record of 290, set in 2015). Some portion of that unusually high number is a direct result of the pandemic, as it is believed that 40 of those news names made their fortune with a product directly related to COVID-19 (such as vaccine producing Moderna CEO, Stéphane Bancel). Sitting at the very top for the fourth year running was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who saw his net worth shoot from $113 billion this time last year to a whopping $177 billion in 2021, higher than the mark he held before his high profile divorce settlement in 2019 (now that’s a quick bounce back). The big climber on the leaderboard was Telsa and Space X CEO, Elon Musk, who vaulted all the way from #31 on the 2020 list to #1, increasing his net worth by six times in the last year alone. For now, he sits at the top spot but much has been made of the ongoing yo-yo contest between him and Bezos for the spot which seems primed to continue into the next year. Rounding out the top five are French businessman and luxury goods magnate, Bernard Arnault; former Microsoft CEO and long-time former world’s richest man, Bill Gates; and Facebook’s often controversial founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
If creating billionaires was a team sport, then, just like on an Olympic Games medal table, it’s all about the rivalry between China and the U.S. This year, it is the Americans who reign supreme with 724 billionaires to China’s 698 (including Hong Kong and Macau), although it was the Eastern superpower who topped the leaderboard for most new billionaires in the last year, so who knows if the ‘Stars and Stripes’ will hang onto that title this time next year.
Of the 2,755 overall names, 1,975 are what Forbes considers ‘self-made’ (defined as a person who did not gain their fortune through inheritance ) for an overall percentage of 72%. The youngest of which is 26 year old American Austin Russell, who founded Luminar Technologies, a company which develops sensor technology for cars, at just 17 years old and hit the one billion mark this past year.
If you’re looking to work your way onto this list one day, finance and investments appear to be the hotspots, with 371 of the total billionaires making their fortune primarily in the finance and investment industry, making it the most fruitful industry for billionaires for the second year in a row. Close behind was the tech industry, with 365 sitting above the one billion mark, followed by manufacturing, fashion & retail, and healthcare rounding out the top five industries.
New notable names on the list this year include the Winklevoss twins (who you may know as the Harvard twins who had a bloodfeud with Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook in the last 00’s), Hollywood mogul Tyler Perry (who you may know as the creator of Madea media empire, or as Ben Affleck’s sleazy lawyer in Gone Girl) and Kim Kardashian-West (who you may know from, well, being in the news just about every other day).