# Reblog: Putting Bill Gates in Proportion

[Feature photo above by Baluart.net.]

Seven years ago, one of my math club students was preparing for a speech contest. His mother emailed me to check some figures, which led to a couple of blog posts on solving proportion problems.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:

## Putting Bill Gates in Proportion

A friend gave me permission to turn our email discussion into an article…

Can you help us figure out how to figure out this problem? I think we have all the information we need, but I’m not sure:

The average household income in the United States is \$60,000/year. And a man’s annual income is \$56 billion. Is there a way to figure out what this man’s value of \$1mil is, compared to the person who earns \$60,000/year? In other words, I would like to say — \$1,000,000 to us is like 10 cents to Bill Gates.

When I looked up Bill Gates at Wikipedia, I found out that \$56 billion is his net worth, not his income. His salary is \$966,667. Even assuming he has significant investment income, as he surely does, that is still a difference of several orders of magnitude.

But I didn’t research the details before answering my email — and besides, it is a lot more fun to play with the really big numbers. Therefore, the following discussion will assume my friend’s data are accurate…

## Bill Gates Proportions II

Another look at the Bill Gates proportion… Even though I couldn’t find any data on his real income, I did discover that the median American family’s net worth was \$93,100 in 2004 (most of that is home equity) and that the figure has gone up a bit since then. This gives me another chance to play around with proportions.

So I wrote a sample problem for my Advanced Math Monsters workshop at the APACHE homeschool conference:

The median American family has a net worth of about \$100 thousand. Bill Gates has a net worth of \$56 billion. If Average Jane Homeschooler spends \$100 in the vendor hall, what would be the equivalent expense for Gates?

In the last post, I explained that a proportion sets two ratios equal to each other. Each ratio must compare similar thing to similar thing in the same order. In this case, we are interested in the ratio “Expense : Net Worth”…