NEW YORK - Contrary to popular belief, most wealthy people were not born with a silver spoon In their mouth.

That, at least, is the finding of a recent survey by U.S. Trust Company of New York.

In a poll of 151 families with more than $200,000 in annual income, respondents most often identified hard work as the secret of their success.

That means the wealthy are busy people who have had limited dealings with professional money managers during their wealth-building years, according to Jeffrey S. Maurer, U.S. Trust's president. Those facts have to be taken into account when marketing to the affluent, he said

Most Are Entrepreneurs

Asked to identify "very important" sources of their wealth, 46% of respondents cited business ownership. That was followed by: corporate employment (33% of respondents), and professional practices. such as law firms and medical practices (29%). Just 10% cited inheritance as a very important source of wealth. The numbers exceed 100% because some survey participants gave multiple replies.

Of those polled, 70% said they came from a poor, lower-class, or middle-class background - a finding Mr. Maurer called "very encouraging."

Labels Seen as Unfair

The wealthy also expressed some schizophrenic attitudes when it comes to the public's view of their affluence. While 82% of respondents said that financially successful people are admired, 71% also said they believe they are resented by those who have not done as well.

The opinions coexist because the public can admire Horatio Alger stories about self-made wealth while also resenting those appearing to be dilettantes, Mr. Maurer said.

The wealthy also think the general public unfairly labels their children as spoiled and sheltered.

About 55% agreed that their children are perceived as not being exposed to the realities of life. Another 48% agreed others believe that "the children of financially successful people don't understand money."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.