I’m privileged. That’s just a statement of fact. It’s a word thrown around a lot and sometimes we lose sight of what it actually means. So what do *I* actually mean by privileged.
Firstly I’m lucky to have born into a major democracy (UK) where opportunities are plentiful and general you can do what you want to do with the right level of hard work and education i’m also lucky to now live in a country with a similar philosophy as well as high levels of can-do attitude (US).
Obviously we could argue all day about what countries are considered democracies and might provide these level of opportunities; in general we could consider the following 10 countries (all fall within the largest 60 countries in the world and have good infrastructure as well as having large GDP and a democratic system of government).
US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Canada, Australia.
Obviously you could be from a smaller country such as Norway or Belgium and have great opportunities but I don’t want to over complicate. The population of those 10 countries is 879 million people. The global population is around 7.5 billion. So the chances of being born in a country that will provide the framework to achieve FIRE is about 12%. Lets up that to 15% to include the smaller countries.
Secondly I was lucky enough to have a family that sent me to university. I think it would be very hard to impossible (unless you are a full on entrepreneur, and I suspect those kinds of people are not the type to want to retire early) to FIRE without a college degree. The level of pay required is unlikely to be available to people without at least a bachelors. In the US approximately 35% of the population has at least a bachelors degree.
So just from chance alone there is around a 5% probability that I would be born in the “right” part of the world and go to college. Therefore 95% of the global population is unlikely to even have the chance to try to FIRE even if they want to.
Then there is the elephant in the room. I am a white male. I can’t put numbers on the impact of this and i’m not sure i’m in a position to even try. However there is no doubt that economically i’m in a better position. Men make more than women (although i’m not 100% convinced that the oft mentioned 77% number is accurate as I feel a lot of these studies don’t include for example maternity leave). However there would be no way we would be FIREd as a family if Tuffy hadn’t had a successful career as well.
There is an economically advantage to being white in today’s society. This is a subject that is very politically charged and I don’t want to disappear down that rabbit hole. However I think we can reasonably agree that people have color have less opportunities in general than the white population.
Even though I can’t place a number of these factors I don’t think it would be unreasonable to drop the 5% chance above to say 3%.
I’ve worked hard and I’ve been lucky in my career. But no amount of hard work or luck matters if you are not even in the race. Based on the above, 97% of the worlds population are not even able to enter.
Those of us in the position of being able to retire young should be mindful of the amazing amount of privilege and sheer luck that has enabled us to execute our plans. It’s tough when writing about personal finance to not come across as arrogant. It’s very easy to say, “save more” well if you are living hand to mouth and a single parent working two or three jobs then saving may be next to impossible. It’s also a common theme to say “cook your meals at home” but if you have’t had the advantage of being taught to cook or you haven’t had the resources to invest in kitchen equipment (as well as ingredients and spices) then that advice can be incredibly daunting.
The simple fact is we are privileged and while the general life lessons that have helped us to approach or reach FIRE are good and useful to all, we do need to be mindful that the playing field is not equal for all. This is something as a community we should try and assist with.