How are the rich different from you and me?

The famous quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me” that is usually truncated as “The rich are different from you and me”, captures the fascination that people have with trying to define what makes someone rich and in what way they differ from those who are not.

We now have the spectacle of members of the oligarchy saying that earning $250,000 per year does not make you rich while simultaneously suggesting that people can live on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 per year for a 40-hour work week.

I think that I have found the answer to the demarcation line between the rich and the not-rich: the number of bathrooms in their homes. More precisely, it is the ratio of the number of bathrooms to the number of bedrooms. If that number (the ‘bathroom ratio’) is greater than one, then you are rich. (Note that a bathroom ratio of exactly one can be ambiguous since that might refer to a small one-bedroom apartment or an eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion.)

This realization came over me like a flash.

Given that we spend so little time in the bathroom, one would not need that many to meet the needs of a normal household. But I had noticed for some time that real estate ads for upscale homes sometimes featured houses that had more bathrooms than bedrooms, and once wrote about the most extreme example back in 2011 in which a house had five bedrooms, nine bathrooms, and seven half bathrooms, which gives a bathroom ratio of 2.5.

Then just a few days ago, there was an item in the New York Post about a new housing development in the city that, although a single building, had separate entrances for the units for the rich from those of the not-rich, since it would not do for the wealthy to be even close to the hoi polloi in the hallways or elevators. It had his nugget at the very end: “A six-bedroom, eight-bath pad goes for $15.9 million”, giving a bathroom ratio of 1.33.

I think the bathroom ratio is a pretty reliable guide but why rich people need so many bathrooms beats me.


  1. flex says

    You are not alone.

    If memory serves, the Census Bureau uses the ratio of bathrooms to residents of a house as an indicator of wealth.

    Using your formula I’m only moderately well off, with a bathroom ratio of 0.8.
    But according to the Census Bureau formula, I’m wealthy with a bathroom ratio of 2.0.

    I have to admit, I’m paid pretty well and my wife works too, so while we are not rolling in money, we should be able to pay off our debts fairly rapidly. (What? Debt? Well, this is a new house. We’ve both been in graduate school (while working). And I took a bath on my last house which I was forced to sell in 2009. So yes, we have some debt we are paying off.)

  2. Anthony K says

    Given that we spend so little time in the bathroom

    Speak for yourself, Mr. Efficient Bowels Who Apparently Has Other Places to Read.

  3. nichrome says

    The last house I owned had 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. But this was totally justified as it was a B&B 😉

  4. unbound says

    Interesting thought. I definitely feel middle class despite a higher than average income, but living in a higher than average cost-of-living area…and the bedroom to bathroom ratio would be 0.75 for me by your formula.

    Historically, I’ve used the conversation approach to determine who is rich and who is not. The rich talk about retirement funds, stocks, etc. The middle class talk about mortgage payments and affordability of colleges for their kids. The poor talk about food and making rent.

  5. Mano Singham says

    My goal is to get out of there as soon as I can, so the thought has never occurred to me of taking reading matter with me.

  6. Mano Singham says

    I should have added that my own bathroom ratio which in 0.625, even though I consider myself very comfortably well-off.

    How does the Census Bureau calculate it?

  7. machintelligence says

    The usual answer to your question is that they have more money. 🙂
    I have lived in houses where the ratios ranged from .5 to 1.25
    The handiest bathroom to have is one right off the attached garage, so you don’t have to walk through the house to use it when working in the yard or on your car.

  8. Paul Jarc says

    why rich people need so many bathrooms beats me.

    They don’t, which is the point. Superfluous spending is a way of signaling their wealth.

  9. doublereed says

    I dunno. I’m pretty rich, and my bathroom ratio is only like .75. Now you’re making me think I need more bathrooms.

  10. flex says

    Well, it is nice to not have to take stairs when you are in a hurry, but I think you’ve hit the nail on head.

    Could Thorstein Veblen pick up the white courtesy phone?

  11. flex says


    If you have no choice but to wait for a toilet you are not wealthy.

    This is my recollection from twenty years ago though, so don’t take it as gospel. Or should I say, it may be about as truthful as gospel, don’t take it as an indisputable fact.

  12. says

    I make a good salary, but I live in a small place with a bathroom ratio of 1. I kind of like the bathroom:people ratio better, which puts me at .5 and times when I still have to hold it. So, if you have to hold it, you’re not rich?

  13. Aliasalpha says

    What’s a half bathroom? Just a bath in a hallway or do you just have a poo in a room with no facilities?

  14. oldymoldy says

    i had to think about this for a while, “what does this have to do with conservation” i asked. is it some allusion to einstein or the likelihood that the wealthy aren’t inclined to conserve? although likely calling themselves conservative. while making a visit to the bathroom it struck me. must have misread it.

  15. Mano Singham says

    This is an American real estate term that refers to a room with just a toilet and sink. A full bathroom would have a tub and/or shower too.

  16. invivoMark says

    But how do you clean that many bathrooms!? If the answer is simply that you don’t use 3 or 4 of the bathrooms, how do you prevent spiders from taking up residence underneath the toilet seat?

    I’m suddenly inclined to double-check the facilities, should I ever find myself at the loo of a wealthy homeowner!

  17. Pen says

    Did you know that your measure is quite Americanocentric? In other countries one or one and a half bathrooms per house are pretty normal regardless of size. So, we have a ratio of 0.33 here at our house (bedrooms and residents) and although I’m not sure I would call us rich we’re in the comfortably-off classes. My in laws in the US are about the same economically but they have 2 full baths and 1 bedroom. Why? They can share a bed but not a bathroom? Strange…

  18. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Fitzgerald was talking about the very rich, remember and the differences go beyond the number or ratio of bathrooms in houses, fun though those are as topics for debate.
    I’ve only met a couple of very rich people and only for a short time in each case, but while they were very different from each other- one inherited wealth, the other made it through their own efforts- they were also very different in assumptions and opinions to working-class or middle-class people- even, I think to ordinarily common-or-garden wealthy people.

  19. Mano Singham says

    That was exactly my thought, that keeping bathrooms clean is a real pain. But such people likely hire people to do that.

  20. nathanaelnerode says

    “I think the bathroom ratio is a pretty reliable guide but why rich people need so many bathrooms beats me.”

    The answer: Entertaining.

    You have *private* bathrooms in the private spaces of the house, and then separate *public* bathrooms connected to the ballroom, the receiving room, etc. When you’re holding a reception in your mansion, you don’t want the visitors wandering through your private suites.

    I guess I’m just close enough to the “really rich” to understand this. My own house has a ratio of 1.

  21. khms says

    Ok, lets see … Bedrooms: 6, toilets: 2, so that one’s 0.33. Currently people: 2, makes for 1.0; except this same house and family has seen people: 6, making for 0.33. (And yes, you can conclude from that that nobody shared sleeping places.) Incidentally, over time, I’ve used four of those bedrooms if I recall correctly.

    Slight complication: showers: 2, but one place has a shower and no toilet, and one a toilet and no shower, making for three places. (The third place has a tub. And two sinks.) And the two people here now use different toilets, but the same shower. (Not simultaneously.)

    This stuff is complicated!

  22. Mano Singham says

    As I like to say, clearly more research is needed to come up with a more sophisticated model that includes bathrooms, bedrooms, people, and time. Maybe I should apply for a grant?

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