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04/23/2013

The world's billionaires: still pretty much a boys' club

Kirsty Bertarelli
Kirsty Bertarelli with her husband Ernesto Bertarelli in 2010. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

If you are a talented woman and looking to make a billion here is some advice: marry an extremely wealthy man, divorce him and get a massive settlement or wait for your father/brother/any other male relative to strike it rich.

That's not advice from a 1950s manual but a reflection of several rankings of wealth the world over.

The latest is the Sunday Times' Rich List, which details Britain's 1,000 wealthiest people.  

At the very top is Kirsty Bertarelli, worth $10 billion. Bertarelli, 41, a former Miss U.K. 1988 married Ernesto Bertarelli who sold his family's pharmaceutical company in 2006 for $13 billion. She is also a songwriter who is about to release an album. She admitted to the Sunday Times, "I don't think Ernesto is going to stop working and rely on my income just yet. It still feels fantastic, though. It's important to make your own money; it makes buying a present mean so much more."

Forbes magazine calculates that of the 1,226 billionaires in the world, only 104 are women. Chinese journalist who became a real estate developer Wu Yajun is a self-made woman and so is America's Oprah Winfrey.

Men and women have different attitudes to money, says Margaret May who runs the Institute for Women and Wealth in Florida. 

"In other words for men achieving the money is the goal but for women achieving the money is only part of the goal for they are discerning about what the money can do to reach their ultimate goal such as buying a house, educating a child or donating to a cause," she told the Star. "Women’s attitudes regarding money and wealth are both behavioral and biological starting at an early age with the values we perceive regarding money and its usefulness in our lives."

Bloomberg's Billionaire index of the top 100 richest in the world features 10 women. While there is a diverse range of backgrounds from Chile to Australia, every woman has inherited or married into money.

Africa's richest woman is Angola's Isabel Dos Santos who worked her father's connections as president to acquire a number of lucrative contracts.

In Britain divorce is one get rich option. Model Slavica Ecclestone former wife of Bernie, head of Formula One, walked away with $1.1 billion when their marriage of 23 years ended. And Irina Malandina's lawyers secured her $242 million when she divorced Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

Ayesha Vardag, top British divorce lawyer didn't mince her words. "In England today, the single easiest way for an attractive woman to make her fortune is to marry a very rich man and then divorce him a few years later, preferably after having a child," she told the Sunday Times.

Across the pond the picture is similar. The richest woman in America is Christy Walton, wife of the late John Walton whose family own Walmart. Her husband died in a plane crash and she now has $28 billion to her name, according to Forbes.

And the richest woman in the world? She lives in France. Liliane Bettencourt is the L'Oreal heiress worth $30 billion whose grandfather founded the cosmetics giant.  

Of course there are plenty of men who haven't done much to earn their money, either. The Grosvenors have been nurturing their family wealth for 400 years and the current Duke of Westminster is one of the largest landowners in Britain.

But self-made men find it easier. The richest man in the UK is a Russian, Alisher Usmanov, the son of a civil servant who made $20 billion from mining and lumber in the former Soviet Union. The son of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, Carlos Slim worked his way up to become the richest man in the world and sits on a $72 billion fortune.  

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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