Are You in the Top 1%, 5%, or 10% of Income Earners?


Social media is an invaluable tool for getting information, keeping in touch with our loved ones, and breaking up our days with a quick hit of entertainment.

But the flipside to clicking through all those Facebook posts and vacation photos is, inevitably, we start comparing what we have and how we’re living to the people we follow.

This tendency isn’t new – people were interested in “keeping up with the Joneses” well before Facebook. But social media and 24/7 celebrity news make a lot of folks feel more pressure than ever before to “keep up.”

That’s why I think some of the chatter surrounding income brackets these days can be a bit overblown. “The top 1%” might make for good sound bites, and for some folks, aspiring to reach a certain level of wealth is motivation that helps sustain prudent spending, investing, and saving habits. But at Keen Wealth, we believe that there are more important questions that people should be asking themselves when it comes to their finances.

Yeah sure, but what are the numbers?

Can’t resist peeking over the fence at that greener grass?

According to an Economic Policy Institute study of 2017 data from the Social Security Administration, the top 10% of earners make an average of around $118,000 per year in wages.

The top 5% earns an average annual income of just under $300,000.

And those who crack the hallowed 1% earn an average of a little over $718,000.

Now again, these numbers are just based on wages. It’s not unreasonable to figure that folks in these high-income brackets are probably bringing home even more money due to things like earnings on investments and profit sharing in companies they might own.

How much happiness does that kind of money buy?

To a certain degree, people have benefited from the economic gains we’ve enjoyed in recent decades. In the last 40 years our GDP has tripled and the S&P 500 has risen 9,000% when you include reinvested dividends. Based on this information, you are likely to think that these dramatic gains in wealth also have created the happiest generation of Americans in history.


According to the World Happiness Report, in 2017 US happiness hit a ten-year low. In fact, we don’t even crack the top 10 happiest countries!

Think about that for a second. Since 2007, our economy hit rock bottom during the Great Recession of 2008-09 and then experienced the longest bull market in history through August of 2018. However, instead of getting happier as the economy improved, we got less happy.

Of course, there’s more to our society’s feelings of happiness than just how the economy is doing. I’d bet that the doom and gloom media, our never-ending political squabbles, and the general negativity on social media aren’t exactly lifting our collective spirits.

But this is a big picture example of something that many other studies have found over the years: earning more money does not necessarily translate into more happiness. Once our income reaches a threshold that allows us to live comfortably, earning more does not make us any happier.

Then what is all my money for?

Now that’s a great question!

After all, if your only goal in life is to reach a higher percentage of affluence or hit some magical savings number, you’re never going to have enough money.

At Keen Wealth, we focus on working closely with our clients to help them grow a comfortable nest egg that will support them in retirement. But there are other numbers that are just as important to our process.

For example, how would you rate:

  • Your well-being. Are you devoting time to your hobbies, relationships, and health?
  • Your progress. Do you feel like you’re advancing towards personal and professional goals?
  • Your freedom. Do you feel trapped by the need to make money, or are you free to do the things you love?

Quantifying these feelings isn’t as easy as calculating your income bracket or projecting your return on investments. But on my homepage, I have a free tool, the Return on Life Index, that can help you start thinking about how you can live the best life possible with the money you have.

After you’ve answered these 20 questions, we’ll send you a personalized report that scores your well-being, progress, and freedom. Once you’ve reviewed these numbers and discussed them with your spouse, call up my team of fiduciary advisors. Let’s make an appointment to discuss how we can help your numbers “keep up” with what matters most: your vision of a happy and fulfilling retirement.

Bill Keen: At Keen Wealth, we believe that there are more important questions that people should be asking themselves than what their income percentage is.

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  

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