Why today's US tycoons are so boring

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child. Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew
Above: Legendary investor Warren Buffett, 87, was surpassed in wealth by 34-year-old Mark Zuckerberg this month. Mr Buffett started showing an aptitude for numbers from an early age and had managed to earn thousands working his local paper route by the time he was 15. Compared to Mr Buffett and many of his contemporaries, Mr Zuckerberg’s cPHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child. Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew
Above: Legendary investor Warren Buffett, 87, was surpassed in wealth by 34-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (above) this month. Mr Buffett started showing an aptitude for numbers from an early age and had managed to earn thousands working his local paper route by the time he was 15. Compared to Mr Buffett and many of his contemporaries, Mr Zuckerberg’s childhood was more banal. PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child. Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew
Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child. Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from South Africa, came from wealth but was bullied as a child. Oil baron Harold Hamm, born in 1945 as the youngest of 13 children of sharecroppers, drilled his first well at age 25. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson grew up in a working-class Boston neighbourhood as the son of a taxi driver.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

True American rags-to-riches stories are getting rarer as class mobility declines and income inequality rises. Today's billionaires are more likely to have an upper-middle-class childhood, early access to a computer and an elite education.

Early in Warren Buffett's life, his father failed to get hired at the family grocery store during the Great Depression. Without a job, and without any money after a run on the banks, the family of four ran up a tab of grocery bills at the store to put food on the table, and even then, his mother sometimes skipped meals.

Leila Buffett, beset by stress and with a mind likely affected by linotype fumes she inhaled as a child, often berated her two small children.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 22, 2018, with the headline 'Why today's US tycoons are so boring'. Print Edition | Subscribe