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Kim Kardashian West, New Billionaire, Deserves 'Self-Made' Title

Kim Kardashian West comes from a moneyed background, but that didn't guarantee her success. The newly minted billionaire is a shrewd businessperson.
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Forbes estimates Kim Kardashian West's net worth at around $1 billion.
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  • Kim Kardashian West is a billionaire, according to Forbes' latest calculations.
  • Along with her family, Kardashian West gets a lot of flack for her "self-made" status.
  • She grew up wealthy, but her inheritance could have dried up without business and social acumen.
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider for more stories.

The Kardashians have been chronically underestimated.  

On Tuesday, Forbes declared Kim Kardashian West a billionaire for the first time. And she deserves the title. 

What she doesn't deserve, critics might say, is the self-made descriptor. The mother of four and soon-to-be ex-wife of Kanye West shows up at No. 2,674 on Forbes' 2021 World's Billionaire List, and No. 24 on its list, published in October, of America's richest self-made women.

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Two years ago, Kardashian West's younger half-sister, Kylie Jenner, was named the "youngest self-made billionaire ever" in a Forbes cover story. The blowback was swift and intense. Kardashian West vehemently defended Jenner's self-made status. (The magazine has since reported that Jenner's team grossly inflated her business' financial figures and recalculated her net worth to be around $900 million.)

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"I really didn't get it, because she is 'self-made' — we are all 'self-made,'" Kardashian West told Refinery29 at the time. "What, because we came from a family that has had success? To me, that doesn't really make sense ... I know so many people like that [who] haven't turned out to be as successful as Kylie. If anything, I've seen the complete opposite."

Indeed, a wealthy upbringing doesn't beget a wealthy life. It undoubtedly makes things easier, opens doors, and all the rest — but it doesn't guarantee access to the 10-figure club. And financial success should be celebrated, especially when it's independently earned by a woman.

There are many flavors of 'self-made'

Kardashian West's father was a prominent attorney who gained notoriety defending O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial. She and her three siblings lived a charmed childhood in a suburb of Los Angeles, and they reportedly inherited some money when their father died in 2003. But that shouldn't undercut her present-day success.

Further, calling Kardashian West self-made doesn't diminish someone else's self-made title. Since the Jenner story firestorm, Forbes has created a self-made scoring model that ranks the millionaires and billionaires in its database on a scale of one to 10. Those with a ranking of one have an inherited fortune and are not working to increase it. Those with a ranking of 10 are the most self-made, as it were, having grown up poor and overcome "significant obstacles" to build their fortune (think Oprah).

Forbes pegs Kardashian West's self-made score at a 7: "Self-made who got a head start from wealthy parents and moneyed background." In other words, she didn't pull herself out of poverty to build a portfolio of businesses and become a billionaire, but she didn't get it all handed to her either as the heiress to a massive corporation.

Do you think of Reed Hastings, the co-founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Netflix , as self-made? He's also a 7 on Forbes' model. What about Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg? Or the No. 1 richest person on the planet, Amazon head Jeff Bezos? They both get an 8 on the self-made scoring model: "Self-made who came from a middle-class or upper-middle-class background." 

As it turns out, only a small cohort of the world's richest people are entirely pull-yourself-up by the bootstraps, five-bucks-in-your-pocket self-made. 

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It's hard to be a good businessperson, inheritance or not

Kardashian West first came into the public consciousness club-hopping with hotel heiress Paris Hilton in the early aughts. She ran with a crowd of rich kids, so I believe her when she says that she's "seen the complete opposite" of her family's trajectory when it comes to turning success into more success.

It's all too easy to squander an inheritance. It's harder to be a good businessperson.

Kardashian West's net worth conservatively sits around $1 billion, Forbes says, the bulk of which comes from her cosmetics and fragrance company KKW Beauty. She also owns a majority stake in her shapewear and loungewear line, SKIMS, worth an estimated $225 million according to Forbes; earns money from endorsement deals and her reality TV show, which is ending this year after a 14-year run; and launched a wildly lucrative mobile app in 2014. That's not to mention her impressive real-estate portfolio.

The success of those ventures is directly related to her business and social acumen. Even if you think she's phoning it in and hiring people to do all the work, she's clearly hired the right people.

We've learned this from studies and stories of millionaires: Having money doesn't mean you're going to keep money. A person shouldn't be defined by the hand they were dealt, privileged or not. Make it a part of their story, but don't allow it to overshadow their success.

Sure, Kardashian West could have invested her inheritance in the stock market and not worked another day in her life. But she's seemingly done the opposite, using her social connections and generational wealth to get started, and that should be respected.

Tanza Loudenback, CFP®, is the personal-finance correspondent at Business Insider. She writes most frequently about saving money, planning for retirement, taxes, debt management, and strategies for building wealth. Have a money question for Tanza? Fill out this anonymous form.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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