We studied the individuals included in the Forbes Billionaires list of 1996, carefully tracking their wealth and lives up to 2016 – that is, for two decades, a period considered “generational.” Our research purpose was to define how billionaires’ wealth is sustained, used, and distributed over a 20-year period, both during their lifetime and after their death, both individually and within their families. Thus, we can determine what happened to the wealth of those people in the Forbes Billionaires list of 1996 by interpreting open source historical data in several dimensions such as generation, source of wealth, operating industry, family and heirs (family size, marriages, son vs daughter composition), political connections and cultural-geographic factors. We identified following significant patterns during the last twenty years as findings of the research.
Most billionaires whose wealth came from technology, the financial sector and natural resources remained billionaires even after the twenty years of this study (Oppenheimers, Alberto Bailleres, Philip Frederick Anschutz - natural resources; Klaus Tschira and James Goodnight – techology; Teh Hong Piow and Johnson Abigail – financial sector);
Diversified groups, agriculture, and the food industry were businesses found most conducive to the successful transfer of wealth through the generations (Anton Rupert to Johann Rupert, South Africa; from Andronico Luksic Abaroa to Andronico Luksic Craig, Chile);
Heritors of Latin American and Middle Eastern families tended to remain in the Forbes Billionaires list in subsequent generations (Emilio Azcarraga, Mexico; Paolo Rocco Argentina; Bahaa Hariri,Lebanon);
Only one-third of the heritor descendants of Asian billionaires were in the Forbes Billionaires list of 2015. (Nina Wang, Hong Kong; Minoru Moru, Japan);
Political involvement played an important role in billionaires whose wealth derived from natural resources, followed by those in diversified groups (for example, George W. Bush supporter Ray Lee Hunt, US);
Self-made billionaires tended to marry more often than those whose wealth was inherited. (Bencharongkul Boonchai, Thailand, 7 marriages; Ho Stanley of Hong Kong, 4);
Family size decreased from generation to generation; billionaires had four children on average;
Both small and large families had difficulties with wealth transfer and maintaining billionaire status: small families suffered from lack of choice among heritors (for example, if a sole heir wasn’t interested in business or was inept at handling wealth), while large families suffered from wealth dilution from one generation to the next;
Philanthropic engagement by family businesses tended to increase the likelihood of heritors remaining billionaires from one generation to the next;
Death from natural causes was the leading cause of death for billionaires from 1996-2016. Cancer was the second-highest cause.