The Elite 5% in America’s Highest Income Places

The Elite 5% in America’s Highest Income Places

The American Community Survey (2006-2008) has included a new table that identifies the mean household income of the highest 5% of households for communities with more than 20,000 residents. The statistics have some interesting patterns when compared to the mean household incomes of ALL households in a given place (The top 50 places on that list can be found on my previous posting: Darien, Connecticut: Wealthiest Town with over 20,ooo.


The Elite 5% in America’s Highest Income Places

Mean HH Inc Rank Top 5% Rank Place Mean Income of Top 5% of Households1 Mean HH Inc for Entire Community2 Locater State
2 1 Lake Forest $1,477,159 $279,052 Chicago IL
1 2 Darien $1,350,718 $295,228 Fairfield County CT
5 3 Greenwich $1,329,664 $235,212 Fairfield County CT
3 4 Westport $1,304,756 $246,977 Fairfield County CT
6 5 Potomac $1,281,593 $228,641 Washington DC MD
4 6 New Trier Township $1,218,595 $243,553 Chicago IL
15 7 Harrison $1,218,103 $196,127 Westchester Co NY
44 8 Laguna Beach $1,170,959 $160,473 Orange County CA
20 9 Manhattan Beach $1,158,357 $189,812 Los Angeles CA
9 10 Summit $1,135,674 $210,564 Union County NJ
10 11 Mountain Brook $1,132,075 $210,089 Birmingham AL
7 12 McLean $1,123,356 $220,631 Washington DC VA
11 13 La Canada Flintridge $1,112,401 $206,861 Los Angeles CA
13 14 Mamaroneck Town $1,096,173 $199,483 Westchester Co NY
26 15 Newport Beach $1,062,775 $185,376 Orange County CA
18 16 Wellesley $1,060,310 $194,155 Boston MA
30 17 Bernards Township $1,050,027 $180,478 Somerset Co NJ
28 18 Lower Merion Twp $1,035,544 $184,033 Philadelphia PA
17 19 Saratoga $1,010,533 $194,984 Silicon Valley CA
64 20 Naples $1,006,462 $143,447 Naples FL
22 21 Ridgewood $1,000,602 $186,935 Bergen County NJ
58 22 Laguna Hills $982,854 $148,254 Orange County CA
57 23 Beverly Hills $976,070 $148,578 Los Angeles CA
34 24 Livingston Twp $973,256 $170,704 Essex County NJ
25 25 Eastchester Town $967,038 $185,392 Westchester Co NY
27 26 Wilmette $953,799 $184,073 Chicago IL
40 27 North Tustin $947,882 $166,319 Orange County CA
16 28 University Park $941,832 $195,076 Dallas TX
32 29 Bethesda $941,623 $174,058 Washington DC MD
52 30 Liberty Township $941,231 $153,752 Columbus OH
23 31 Highland Park $936,199 $186,623 Chicago IL
24 32 Mercer Island $929,034 $186,254 Seattle WA
31 33 Bloomfield Twp $895,628 $177,578 Detroit MI
33 34 Ridgefield $894,291 $170,822 Fairfield County CT
8 35 Southlake $892,048 $217,978 Fort Worth TX
12 36 Garden City $872,930 $203,329 Long Island NY
19 37 Los Altos $860,600 $192,010 Silicon Valley CA
103 38 Southampton Town $849,448 $118,334 The Hamptons NY
45 39 Menlo Park $832,607 $159,788 Silicon Valley CA
75 40 Radnor Township $824,914 $136,183 Philadelphia PA
66 41 Montclair $820,592 $142,688 Essex County NJ
53 42 Town of Fairfield $816,247 $153,077 Fairfield County CT
105 43 Manhattan $816,029 $117,056 New York City NY
29 44 Granite Bay $809,718 $182,691 Sacramento CA
62 45 Coral Gables $807,153 $145,420 Miami FL
82 46 Brookline $804,047 $131,960 Boston MA
21 47 Montgomery Twp $802,150 $188,901 Somerset Co NJ
59 48 Newton $797,937 $147,438 Boston MA
70 49 Palm Valley $794,426 $138,866 Jacksonville FL
101 50 East Hampton Town $793,747 $122,385 The Hamptons NY

1  American Community Survey 2006-8

2 American Community Survey 2005-7

The newest survey of the top 5% has similar methodology problems compared to looking at all households. The first irksome problem for either table is that the Census Bureau does not let any household claim an income of over $2,000.000 for statistical reasons. Statistically speaking there is good reason to limit the amount a household can claim as income. After all, Bill Gates would surely blow out Medina, Washington’s mean household income!  However, $2 million seems like an arbitrarily low amount and it will not change for the 2010 Census.

Secondly, because of the use of sampling, variances are very large and although there are real differences, one shouldn’t get hung up on whether a community is 3rd or 4th on the list.

Another problem in looking at the wealthiest places is the population cut-off of 20,000. This leaves some of the wealthiest places in America that are so familiar to Americans, off the list (e.g. Scarsdale, Millburn Township aka Short Hills, Winnetka, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach).

The one problem with the data in high income suburbs that is cleared up by looking at just the top 5% of households is the Servant Problem (as I call it). Servants that have their own  housekeeping  facilities such as kitchens are considered separate households. Naturally their incomes pull down mean household income statistics for any community with particularly large houses that require live-in staff. Greenwich, Connecticut would be a good example of this kind of place.

Climbers: Even Wealthy Places have Stratification

When one compares the mean income for all households to that of the top 5% there are some statistical surprises. Even places that are generally considered to be “wealthy” by any conventional definition can be highly stratified.

Laguna Beach makes the most jarring leap in the standings from 44th for all households compared to 8th place for mean household income ($1,170,959).  The stratification of this beautiful beach town is obviously the spectacular ocean front  mansions vs. more modest homes and apartments near the center of town.

Beverly Hills climbs from 57nd to 23rd. This is no surprise as the wealth associated with north of Santa Monica Boulevard vs. the tracts south of that major road are from two different strata entirely. The wealthy precincts north of Santa Monica (aka 90210) makes up less than a third of all of Beverly Hills households. The lower 2/3 of the city has a surprisingly low mean household income considering the astronomical real estate prices. Let’s face it, living in Beverly Hills means you’ve made it in America!

Although including Manhattan is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, I couldn’t help but add it to the chart as the borough is well known for it’s extreme social segmentation. The size and number of extremely wealthy neighborhoods are familiar to most (the Upper East Side, Sutton Place, Greenwich Village and Tribeca). The mean household income of Manhattan’s top 5% comes in 42nd on the list at $816,029. Three other highly stratified central cities did not make the top 50 list: San Francisco ($506,233); Atlanta ($506,096); and Washington DC ($487,133).

Southampton to East Hampton: Serious Stratification even in the “off  season”.

Household income is always counted at one’s primary residence so many of the most elite vacation spots have relatively low mean household income due to year round service people statistically overwhelming the relatively few very wealthy  permanent residents. The income data from the Towns of East Hampton and Southhampton capture this dichotomy of wealth. However, those wealthy households that due claim the two towns as their “first homes” for personal reasons ensures the Hamptons’ representation among the 50 wealthiest communities of the top 5%.

It is safe to assume that the lions share of the top 5% of incomes are located in the high income core of the Hamptons displayed below.

The Southampton and East Hampton Core Communities Map

View Southampton-East Hampton in a larger map

Places that are less Segmented and more Homogeneous

Just as there are places that are more stratified, there are some notable places that have a much higher degree of homogeneous income. A couple of the most extraordinary examples of this pattern of income are two Fort Worth suburbs. Both are collections  of  monotonously nouveaux riche subdivisions filled with endless McMansions. They exhibit little demographic or architectural difference. Southlake falls from 8th in rank for all households to  35th for the top 5%. Colleyville falls off the top 50 list from 14th to 55th.

New Jersey’s Montgomery Township falls from 21st to 47th. It is an illustration of  an East Coast homogeneous nouveau riche community.

An example of an older planned community that exhibits less stratification is the gracious Long Island community of Garden City. Although 12th in the nation for all household incomes, it falls to 36th for the top 5% of earners.

Map of Garden City, New York’s Higley 1000 Neighborhoods

View Garden City in a larger map

Posted in The US Census, Uncategorized on Nov 14th, 2007, 9:57 am by Stephen Higley   

4 Responses to “The Elite 5% in America’s Highest Income Places”

  1. October 23rd, 2010 | 4:14 am

    Long time reader / first time poster. Really enjoying reading the blog, keep up the good work. Will definitely start posting more in the near future.

  2. December 24th, 2010 | 6:08 pm

    Hey, I just wanted to leave a quick comment to say that I really enjoyed reading your post. There is a lot of good information here for anyone interested in this topic. Keep up the good work.

  3. February 9th, 2011 | 10:34 am

    I grew up on Eastern shore of Long Island and I can tell you that East Hampton is by far the most affluent town on the eastern shore. Living there and running a business for a number of years was certainly a memorable time in my life. I now reside in Palm Beach, Florida and run a local internet marketing company and I am known as “Palm Beach SEO GURU” interesting article good stats thanks.

  4. Stephen Higley
    February 10th, 2011 | 2:25 pm

    You are certainly correct that East Hampton is extraordinarily wealthy. However, the reason it doesn’t show up in the statistics quite as one might expect is that the vast summer “cottages” are second homes and the owners report their household income in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

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