The elite under the microscope

The British élite may only be a small part of the population, but their spending power makes them an important niche market.

The British élite constitutes an important niche market, not only for retailers and manufacturers of luxury goods but also for much corporate and flotation advertising. It doesn’t consist merely of aristocrats and the super-rich who feature in the pages of Hello!

Only 122,000 households in Britain have annual family incomes over 50,000 and, despite the recent depression in house prices, still live in properties valued at more than 200,000. This represents one in every 200 households in Britain, according to this new survey of Britain’s affluent homes.

F Scott Fitzgerald once said: “The rich are different,” which is true for this group. Few face the problems of the National Health Service because, as the Luxury Lifestyle table shows, close to 80 per cent are covered by private medical insurance, compared with only one in five of UK homes having private health cover of any kind. The bulk of these people use the old established insurers, BUPA and PPP. Most live in detached homes, often protected from the rise in burglaries by private security systems or burglar alarms.

London is home to 44,000 of these households, and there are another 38,000 in the South-east. That is to say, two-thirds live in South-eastern Britain (compared with about a quarter of the total population) and only a third, 40,000, in the rest of the country.

Nearly half eat out at restaurants weekly, which may help to explain why tables are still hard to come by despite the recent restaurant boom in London.

More than half take long-haul holidays, rather than visiting the Mediterranean or holidaying at home, and one in four contributes to the traffic problems by owning three or more cars.

The press is the most important medium for reaching this Southern elite. Members tend to be light TV viewers – only a third claim to watch more than two hours daily compared with over 70 per cent of Britain’s total population. Nearly half read The Daily Telegraph, a quarter read The Times and a quarter the Daily Mail.

More surprisingly, one in five reads The Financial Times, making it a popular rather than specialist newspaper for these 122,000 homes. The Private Share Ownership chart perhaps shows why they have a special interest in financial news, comment and advice.

Half of this 122,000 British élite has private listed shareholdings. More significant still is the size of their shareholdings. Whereas just one per cent of homes in Britain has shareholdings in excess of 50,000, close to ten per cent of the élite falls into this bracket, and much of this wealth is concentrated into the top decile of this élite. The average holding across the 122,000 homes is 87,000, while the average for all of Britain is 2,000, with 80 per cent owning no shares of any kind.

Despite their wealth, over half the élite’s members regularly play the National Lottery – although this is one area where it is less active than the rest of the population. The élite’s other hobbies and activities are more predictable: theatre and the arts, gardening, wine, reading and shopping for antiques and fine art – one in 20 even own a horse.

This study highlights the kind of change that the growth of the new computerised lifestyle databases is making to the research business. Historically, research has been geared largely to the use of surveys based on random samples of the population – and this will continue to be its major focus.

Market research has therefore tended to concentrate primarily on the study of major population groups. The use of standard surveys to identify population groups as small as one per cent of the population has proved too expensive unless, like business people, the samples can be easily identified.

The British élite, categorised by affluence, are not restricted to this kind of business definition. While 42,000 of these homes are headed by directors or managers of companies, 26,000 come from the professional classes, a further 26,000 are self-employed and 28,000 are retired.

The élite are not concentrated in one age group: 31,000 are under 45; 53,000 between 45 and 64; and 38,000 are 65 or older. Yet these individuals have similar lifestyles and media habits, and represent a core target for many advertisers.

The data for this article is drawn from The Million Plus Panel operated by Continental Re-search. It comprises information from 2.4 million individuals selected from the ICD Lifestyle database, and weighted to be representative of the UK adult population. This panel is class-ified by over 3,000 variables re-lated to finance and investment, motoring, health, leisure, media, shopping and the home, and by every demographic. The data held on the Million Plus Panel was matched to the British Investor Database held by ICD. This holds details of all 4.9 million private shareholders in the UK. It identifies (unless they are held by nominees) private shareholdings by value and by the number of different shareholdings.

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