EDITOR'S NOTE: We Map Out the Difference

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Residences set back off the intersection of High Net Worth Avenue and Upper Income Road have always been the focus of dreams and aspirations. But up to now they've eluded the granular CT-scanning other populations undergo for government and private enterprise intelligence purposes.

Reflecting on F. Scott Fitzgerald's quip, The rich are different from you and me, America by the Numbers authors William Frey, Bill Abresch and Jonathan Yeasting pose the question: what are they like? The answer may be gleaned more readily from glamorous novels, society pages and overheard five-star restaurant conversation, than from government statistics or academic studies. While the census will inform you of every number conceivable with respect to the very poor age, cars, telephones, rent, years of schooling, children about the very wealthy, it will tell you nothing at all. With wealth comes the prerogative of discretion.

Until now, perhaps. To their likely dismay, the protective bubble of geographical, psychographical and behavioral anonymity long enjoyed by the well-to-do has begun to wear thin.

This much was already clear: It's a finite number of people. Still, they control about a third of the nation's wealth, so this group of people living in about 6.1 million households adds up to the tiniest collection of North American inhabitants we can't afford to ignore. As a rule, American Demographics' cover story analyses focus on larger populations, ones whose mass-scale shared traits help define market segments and set up predictive assumptions on how organizations can best reach them.

But while the number of Americans among the affluent and the about-to-be affluent is less than 1 in every 25 or 30 individuals, and less than 1 household in 10, we're confident that Alison Stein Wellner and John Fetto's story, Worth A Closer Look will serve precisely as that. For it will tell you where they are and what they like to do, read, watch and buy in ways that will shed new light on Fitzgerald's remark that they're different from you and me. They may even become somewhat uncomfortable as the lenses of our analysis blow a coveted and well-preserved cover, and you apply the intelligence to reaching them more effectively.

Don't fret about how tiny a group this is. The statistical significance starts intensifying when the dollars come into play. Data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey indicates that while people in the average household spend about $110 a day, people in the most affluent households spend double that. Instead of an average of $40,000 a year in expenditures, you're looking at an average of $80,000 annually. And a good number of our select sample spend many times that. Counting on your fingers, that tells you that the 6.1 million households we're looking at make a market that is worth a closer look.

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