Could “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Have Set You Up For Life? I Find Out.
Could “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” Have Set You

Judith Keppel did not jump for joy or start screaming. The garden designer just looked a little surprised when she became the first contestant to win £1m. It was a different world back in November 2000.

Judith did not go on to enjoy a life of luxury, but joined a team of quiz experts for the BBC game show, Eggheads. I hadn’t heard of it either.

Millionaire took the UK and then the world by storm. Five contestants won a million in the UK, and twelve pulled it off in the USA. At its peak, it attracted 19m viewers in Britain.

What was the big draw? Win a million and be set up for life.

But could anyone have done better than Ms Keppel in another country? I decided to investigate.

It was a groundbreaking quiz show.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire launched in the UK in August 1998 and was franchised in more than 112 countries. The million pound prize was the big headline, but the show innovated in other ways.

  • The show’s producers exploited phone-in technology to generate enough revenue to offer the big prizes and yet turn a profit.
  • It was the first time that contestants could risk tens of thousands, hundreds of thousand and even a million dollars, pounds or whatever the local currency might be, and really lose out.
  • So confident of the show’s format were the producers, that contestants had life lines if they got stuck. Ironically that often caused more confusion. What does 80% sure mean when £125,000 is at risk?

Millionaire even inspired an Oscar-winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Would a million be enough? It depends.

Whether a million dollars/pounds/etc is enough to never work again depends on factors including:

  • Which country you live in.
  • How old you are.
  • How many dependents you have.
  • What kind of lifestyle you want.

For fun rather than to win a doctorate, I decided to cherry pick factors and pick out the best candidate countries.

How I chose the parameters.

Okay, let’s assume that I somehow won US$1 million. I want to get some idea of how long that would last in the top ten global economies. That’s easy to get from Wikipedia.

How do I work out how long it would last in each country? I’m assumed that I was an average person living in an average house with an average life expectancy.

Let’s start off with buying a house. As I said, I’m a modest fellow, so I decide that I would only live in a house that costs around the national average price.

Some might want to show off, but not me. On the other hand, I don’t want to be at the bottom of the pile either. I’m supposed to be a millionaire.

Having bought a house, I would have to live on what’s left. Let’s divide the remainder by the national average salary. That tells me how long I could live a comfortable but modest life.

So when would I be able to start this comfortable but modest life in my comfortable but modest home?

That depends on the average life expectancy for a particular country. Subtract the number of years at the average salary from the average life expectancy, and that is when my retirement begins!

An example will make it easier to follow.

I will use America as an example. (Sources listed later.)

The median house price is US$200,000 or thereabouts, so that leaves me US$800,000 to live on.

The median salary in the United States is US$43,585, so that means I can last 18 years. But when can I start?

Shockingly to me, the average expectancy blended for males and females is 73.97 in the United States, which is quite far down the chart. I get to retire at 59 years old.

Economists and accountants will be screaming at their screens at this point, because I’ve ignored many, many factors, including:

  • Inflation.
  • Investments.
  • Pensions.
  • Welfare benefits.

I might add them later, but I really only was doing this for grins.

When I get to the actual results, I will, however, refer to national healthcare provision.

I took some shortcuts.

Economists and accountants are going to get even more upset.

Having chosen parameters for my little experiment, I discovered that it was not as easy as I thought to find equivalent data for each country. Surprisingly, that applied to countries such as Germany just as much as China or Brazil.

Median house price is a good example. That figure is readily available for the USA and UK, but tricky to find for Germany. Generally, I could find price per square metre, but how large is the average house in that country?

In the end, if I could not find a median or average price, I looked for a three or four bedroom house on an estate agent’s website. I tried to find a mid range price. It usually worked out okay.

The only time that strategy seemed to fail was Canada. Most houses that appeared on a Google search cost about CA$400,000, which seemed high. That might be true in Toronto, but not for the suburbs or further out. I used the USA house price instead.

The results surprised me.

I gathered data on the following counties (largest economy to smallest in 2019):

  1. USA
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. Germany
  5. India
  6. France
  7. UK
  8. Italy
  9. Brazil
  10. Canada

(Source: Wikipedia)

Let’s start with the easy cases first. Anyone with US$1m in China, India or Brazil can retire any time they like if they accept a middle of the road life-style.

Medical care is not much of an issue either. China has basic healthcare and Brazil has universal healthcare. To my surprise, India is introducing universal healthcare, which will be impressive given the 1.3 billion population.

Italy is a good place to be for so many reasons (Italian food is great), but according to my model, it’s also a great place to be if you win US$1m. You can retire at 42 and you will enjoy life for 4 decades on average. It has universal healthcare too.

France is next. You have to wait until 51 to retire though, and you can expect to live for 27 years. You have universal healthcare, and of course you get to live in France!

Germany and the UK cluster together. In each case, you can retire at 59. From a life expectancy perspective, you can expect to last 22 years.

Someone with US$1m could only expect to live for 18 years in the USA. He or she would also have to pay for healthcare until Medicare cuts in. I was surprised that the USA was so far down the life expectancy league tables.

Canadian millionaires only do a little better than the USA, and have to wait until 62. That’s because they tend to live longer, which is a great reason to have to wait.

Japan had a retirement age of 64, which makes it sound bad, but actually it’s a victim of its own success. The Japanese have the best life expectancy on the planet, so they have to wait longer until US$1m will cover the bills.

Here are the results in full.

Summary Of Results Compiled By Author Based On Sources Below


Italy or France would work for me.

So what does this tell us?

“Who wants to be a millionaire?” is not quite the life changing show that I once thought it was. If you live in the West, you can only really think of retiring in your fifties, and probably much later.

Mind you, it wouldn’t need a US$1m to convince me to move to France or Italy.

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