How Many Coin Flips to Be Kylie Jenner?

Imagine. You’re a zygote hanging out in the fancy airport lounge of the cosmic ether. Chatting with other unborns while sipping a mimosa and charging your phone.  Meanwhile on Earth, a couple bails early from a holiday party and Lyfts it home. The couple will soon be asleep but not before the ancient power of wine and nature take its course.

The loudspeaker in the cosmic airport lounge summons you. Next thing you know, you’re en route to sit in a uterine waiting room until Labor day.

Who Will I Be Born To?

Let’s say you start flipping a coin on the flight. How many heads in a row you flip determines whose house you go to. No heads at all? Ouch. Your soon-to-be-mother is struggling to keep a job while her baby daddy stands before a judge for domestic violence.

Flip a single head and you arrive at the median net worth household. You got two parents and statistically speaking .5 siblings.

Flip 3 in a row and you’ll get some overachieving parents who are going to spend the next 5 years wondering if they should ‘redshirt’ in kindergarten since your birthday is right on the cut-off and if your the oldest kid in the class you’ll be better at sports and blah, blah, blah, blah…You’ll probably be in the safest car seat and your parents the life of the party I’m sure.

Now, what about 11 heads in a row? Jackpot. You are being dropped into a Calabasas mansion to an ambitious family that knows how to wring clicks from the genetic advantages securely stored in your carry-on. In an era where anyone can get Warhol’s “15 minutes” but not a minute more, this family knows how to get their 15 years (and counting).

This table approximates the household a zygote headed for America can fall into. (I cobbled it together from 2016 DQYDJ data).

Enter Kylie Jenner

After selling a stake in her cosmetics brand she is now worth $1.2 billion. Here’s context:

First off, let’s just get one indisputable fact out of the way: Team Kylie Jenner has built a remarkable business. It posted revenues of $200m last year, and is on track for Ebitda margins of 25 per cent this, all while growing 40 per cent. For reference that’s more Ebitda than Uber, Lyft and Peloton made in the last quarter. Combined. (Link)

Then this guy:

The internet has been arguing over whether she is “self-made”. Just check out the comments.

People can’t wait to discount the success of people who “start on third base”. People like to drink Haterade. That’s old news. But it does bring up an interesting question. How likely or unlikely was such an outcome based on where she came from? After all, her half-brother Rob shared many of the same advantages.

What would be the equivalent level of success for somebody who started in a regular household? Well, let’s see. We can use the table to see how many heads in a row it would take Kylie to become a billionaire from her roots. Her silver spoon roots place her somewhere between decamillionaire and centimillionaire. From there, it’s about 7 heads in a row to billionaire. Translating that to a person born into the median net worth home, that’s the equivalent of Mary Smith rising to become the richest person at their HS if not their whole school. A 99.9 percenter.

Using that logic, you can still see just how unlikely it was to pull off what she did. You can lessen it since it wasn’t impossible from the get-go but there’s lots of things that impress us even if they aren’t impossible. Throw in the fact that regression to the mean shows most rich kids remain outshined by their illustrious parents. Meanwhile, Kylie blew them out of the water (financially speaking).


You’re skeptical. “Wait a minute, Kris, you can’t use the raw odds of being born into a certain household to estimate the probability of moving higher through the ranks? When Kylie gets her last name she also gets a weighted coin.”

Congratulations. You have just discovered a major flaw in the income equality conversation dominating the nation. In this week’s Money Angle we’ll see why.

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