How many millionaires are high school dropouts?

It’s a common belief that education and wealth go hand-in-hand – the higher your level of education, the more money you’re likely to earn over your lifetime. But is that really true? Can someone become a millionaire without a high school diploma? Let’s examine the data and find out.

While formal education can certainly open doors and provide opportunities that lead to higher earnings, lack of education does not preclude someone from becoming financially successful. There are plenty of examples throughout history of savvy entrepreneurs and businesspeople who dropped out of high school yet still managed to amass fortunes.

That said, in general the statistics show that the odds of becoming a millionaire are lower for those without a high school diploma compared to those with higher levels of education. So while it’s possible, it’s not necessarily common.

How Many Millionaires in the U.S.?

Before looking at millionaires without high school diplomas specifically, let’s establish some baseline numbers on millionaires in the United States overall.

According to the Spectrem Group’s Market Insights 2022 report, there were 22.5 million households in the U.S. with a net worth of $1 million or more in 2021. This represented approximately 8.97% of all American households. The following table summarizes the data:

Category Number of Households Percentage of Total Households
Total U.S. Households 251 million 100%
Households with Net Worth $1 Million or More 22.5 million 8.97%

So nearly 9% of American households have crossed the millionaire threshold. But how many of those millionaires are high school dropouts?

Millionaires Without a High School Diploma

Specific statistics on millionaires without a high school education are hard to come by. However, we can extrapolate some estimates based on broader education data for millionaires.

According to a 2021 study by Ramsey Solutions, around 88% of millionaires have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That implies about 12% do not have a college degree.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that only around 27% of adults without a high school diploma go on to complete some college or earn an associate’s degree. Applying that rate to the 12% of millionaires without a bachelor’s degree suggests that roughly 3% of American millionaires did not finish high school and have no college experience.

With 22.5 million millionaire households in the U.S., 3% of that number is approximately 675,000 households headed by someone without a high school diploma. Of course this is just an estimate based on general education statistics, but it gives us an idea of the magnitude we’re talking about.

Geographic Differences

The rate of millionaires without a high school education is likely to vary significantly between different parts of the country. Areas with more blue-collar industries and vocational job opportunities may skew higher than places with more white-collar office jobs.

Silicon Valley and Wall Street are filled with millionaires, but very few probably dropped out of high school. Meanwhile, other regions may have higher concentrations of high school dropout millionaires who made their fortune in construction, manufacturing, retail, or other non-professional industries.

Men vs. Women

Among the high school dropout millionaires, men likely outnumber women by a significant margin. Historical and cultural factors that limited women’s career options and earnings growth meant far fewer women were able to achieve self-made millionaire status without the benefit of higher education.

The gender gap has narrowed in recent decades as societal attitudes have changed. But there is still a noticeable imbalance between men and women at the highest wealth levels, especially among those lacking college degrees.

Most Common Sources of Wealth

How do high school dropouts actually manage to accumulate $1 million or more without education? Here are some of the most common sources of wealth for this group:

Owning a Business

Starting and growing a successful business is probably the number one path to wealth for non-college educated millionaires. Nearly all high profile high school dropout millionaires like David Karp, Barry Diller, and Richard DeVos made their money founding companies.

Owning a business allows you to reap all the rewards of your hard work and good decisions. Equity and profits aren’t capped by a salary limit. Many savvy entrepreneurs are able to turn small companies into multi-million dollar enterprises.


Investing provides the ability to exponentially grow money you’ve earned from other sources like business ownership or high-earning jobs. Some millionaires without traditional education amassed their fortune through savvy investing in real estate, stocks, or other assets.

Cultivating financial intelligence to make smart investments is one of the most reliable paths to wealth. You don’t need an advanced degree – just solid research, patience, and perspective.

High Income Career

While less common, some millionaires without a high school diploma earned their fortune through highly paid trades or professions that don’t require college degrees. Examples include plumbers, electricians, machinists, pilots, real estate agents, and artists/entertainers.

A combination of in-demand skills, strong work ethic, passion, natural talent, and business savvy can result in high earnings that compound over decades into millions.


Inheriting substantial money from a family member or spouse is another potential route to millionaire status without formal education. For example, someone may have dropped out of school at a young age but later inherited a trust fund or business assets from their parents or grandparents.

However, research suggests that around 80% of millionaires did not inherit any of their wealth – they earned it themselves. So inheritance is likely one of the less common paths for high school dropouts.

Challenges and Considerations

While it’s certainly possible to become a millionaire without finishing high school, it’s important not to overlook the many challenges and risks faced by those without diplomas.

Fewer Job Opportunities

Lack of a high school diploma can severely limit employment opportunities and career advancement potential. Most corporate and professional roles are simply off limits without at least a diploma or GED. The types of jobs accessible to dropouts tend to be lower-paying with less room for growth.

Lower Future Earnings

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the median lifetime earnings for someone without a high school degree are $973,000. That’s compared to $1.3 million for high school graduates and $2.7 million for those with bachelor’s degrees. So the compounding effect of lower incomes over time takes a significant toll.

Less Financial Knowledge

Unfortunately, many schools fail to provide even basic financial literacy education. But in general, those with higher levels of education have greater exposure to money management concepts. Without that knowledge, avoiding costly mistakes and optimizing wealth becomes much harder.

Fewer Connections and Mentors

Staying in school provides access to helpful mentors, experts, and professional networks that can support your career and financial success. High school dropouts miss out on many of those connections and role models.

Overcoming Social Stigmas

Unfairly or not, dropping out of high school carries a stigma in many social circles. This can limit opportunities and damage self-confidence. As result, dropouts need thick skin, persistence, and belief in themselves to overcome negative perceptions.

Famous High School Dropout Millionaires

While the road to wealth without a diploma is filled with hurdles, some very prominent businessmen proved that it is possible. Here are a few famous high school dropouts worth over $1 million.

David Karp

David Karp dropped out of high school at age 15 and ended up developing the popular social media platform Tumblr in his early 20s. After Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013, Karp’s net worth skyrocketed to an estimated $200 million.

Aretha Franklin

Known as the “Queen of Soul,” singer Aretha Franklin left high school after her sophomore year. Her powerful voice and iconic songs led to over 75 million records sold, 18 Grammy awards, and wealth estimated between $80 to $200 million when she passed away in 2018.

Richard DeVos

Richard DeVos is one of the co-founders of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic NBA team. Despite dropping out of high school, he grew Amway into a multi-billion dollar company that enabled him to amass an estimated $5.1 billion net worth before his death in 2018.

Tyler Perry

Media mogul Tyler Perry struggled with poverty and homelessness as he dropped out of high school. But the actor, director and writer went on to build an entertainment empire with over $1 billion in lifetime grosses from his Madea films and other creative works. Perry’s current net worth sits around $800 million.

Ralph Lauren

Fashion icon Ralph Lauren comes from humble beginnings, having grown up in poverty as the son of immigrant parents. After dropping out of college, he built a fashion empire that propelled his net worth past $8 billion at its peak. He remains one of the richest people in the clothing industry.

Key Takeaways

Although the path to wealth is certainly more difficult without a high school diploma, here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Around 675,000 U.S. households headed by a high school dropout have still reached millionaire status.
  • Most non-college educated millionaires built their wealth by starting businesses or making savvy investments.
  • Men vastly outnumber women among high school dropout millionaires.
  • Geographic location makes a big difference in the opportunities available.
  • Inherited money accounts for a small percentage of non-college graduate millionaires.


Becoming a millionaire without a high school diploma is certainly more difficult but not impossible. A combination of strong work ethic, entrepreneurial drive, financial savvy, skill mastery, calculated risk-taking, and a bit of luck can overcome the lack of education. But the statistics clearly show the odds of amassing such wealth are stacked against those without diplomas.

For most people seeking financial success, at least completing high school or pursuing some type of specialized vocational training provides a tremendous boost in income potential over their careers. While formal education is never a guarantee of higher earnings, it certainly helps open doors and provide knowledge that gives you a leg up.

The few high-profile millionaire and billionaire dropouts shouldn’t overshadow the reality that the vast majority of wealthy Americans got where they are with the foundation of a college or graduate degree. So while it’s admirable to admire innovators and entrepreneurs who overcame the odds, for most people seeking to maximize income and opportunities, finishing school is one of the smartest investments they can make.

Leave a Comment