By Bradley Johnson
If you want to follow the money, get on a plane. Forty-five of the nation’s 50 most affluent ZIP codes hug the East and West coasts. Fly-Over Land has just three, all on the North Shore of Chicago. Atlanta’s Buckhead is the South’s sole outpost in this rich territory. The sun spot of Paradise Valley, Ariz., rounds out the list.
The nation is moving south and west-the population center point is now southern Missouri-but the Northeast is still the money belt. Metropolitan New York is home to nearly half-24-of the ritzy 50 ZIPs. Add in Boston (five), Philadelphia’s Main Line (two) and suburban Washington (one), and the Northeast corridor accounts for 32 of the most prized ZIP codes, according to data compiled for Advertising Age’s American Demographics by ESRI, a supplier of geographic information-systems software and data.
The 50 ZIPs are home to 201,799 households and 565,125 residents. This elite group-just 0.2 percent of the U.S. population-last year had an average household income of $294,000, four times the national average of $67,572, and an average net worth of $1.2 million, about three times the national figure ($468,970), according to American Demographics’ analysis of ESRI data. The top 10 ZIPs, from No. 1 Atherton, Calif., to No. 10 Old Westbury, N.Y., are all on the coasts.
ESRI ranked ZIP codes based on a formula, including such demographic variables as average household income and average net worth. Surging home prices on the coasts have boosted the net worth of households in those regions. But coastal communities also pay better; the coasts are home to nine of the 10 ZIPs with highest household income. (The 10th, Kenilworth, Ill., at least is on the coast of Lake Michigan.)
ESRI found six affluent ZIPs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, which together form the money center of the West. Los Angeles has just four. Its most celebrated address, Beverly Hills 90210, came in a distant No. 35 nationally, reflecting in part that the ZIP is home to both glitzy houses and not-so-ritzy apartments. Beverly Hills ranked second-lowest in median income; some people only act rich.
Less Prime-Time TV
Overall, the rich aren’t much different from one leafy burg to the next. Across cities and regions, they universally spend big money on home improvements (average annual spending: $10,400) and luxury cars. They attend more live theater. They watch far less prime-time TV and read more news magazines. They travel abroad for business and pleasure. They are nearly twice as likely as the average American to shop online and four times as likely to tune their radios to classical music.
But sift through the data and one will find subtle differences among regions and cities in consumer purchases and activities, according to Market Potential Indexes supplied by ESRI using data from Mediamark Research.
The Northeast accounts for nearly two-thirds of the ritzy ZIPs (32) and more than half of the affluent ZIPs’ population (about 320,000). The greater New York area-including the winding roads of Westchester County, N.Y., Connecticut and northern New Jersey-is home to 24 top ZIPs and 256,000 residents. Two of the nation’s hubs of old money, Philadelphia and Boston, account for most of the region’s remaining wealthy ZIPs.
Demos for the Northeast’s affluent ZIPs track closely with those of the affluent Midwest (represented by the Chicago North Shore enclaves of Kenilworth, Glencoe and Lake Forest). Residents (median age 41 to 42) have the longest commutes (34 minutes) among the ritzy 50. They buy more luxury cars and vote in elections more reliably than their rich peers in other regions. They’re twice as likely as the average American to take a vacation on a cruise ship.
Bottom line for marketers and media: If it plays in Peoria (or at least Kenilworth), it should play in Westchester.
But there’s not a lot of population growth. ESRI projects slow growth for most ritzy ZIPs in the Northeast and Midwest; it expects only two of the 35 will see growth greater than 1 percent a year through 2009. In the West, four of the 14 rich ZIPs should see greater than 1 percent growth. Atlanta’s rich ZIP should grow 1.5 percent a year.
Residents of the richest ZIPs in the West are a little more Web-centric than their counterparts elsewhere. The West Coasters are more likely to shop at Amazon.com, to purchase airline tickets online and to own a notebook computer. The tech bent isn’t surprising given that the rich-ZIP list includes the estates of Silicon Valley (Atherton, home of Google CEO Eric Schmidt) and suburban Seattle (Medina, Wash., home of Bill Gates).
West’s Rich Are Older
One surprise: The West is the new home for old money-not old as in inherited, but older as in age. Median age of the rich list’s 14 West Coast ZIPs is 46, four to five years above that of affluent ZIPs in other regions. What gives? Don’t blame it on Sunbelt retirees. The median age in Los Altos, Calif., a pillar of Silicon Valley, is above that of desert oasis Paradise Valley.
Median ages for the rich ZIPs in Northern California and Los Angeles are around the mid-40s. That’s a reminder of how Silicon Valley is getting older (Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs now qualifies for membership in AARP). In Southern California, the aging residents of Santa Monica 90402 go (OK, drive) to the gym more than their cohorts in any other ritzy 50 ZIP. They’re heading toward age 50, but rich residents of that seaside town are not about to surrender their youth.