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A brief look at the richest heiresses and self-made women in the world

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, one of the richest women in the world  Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

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The wealth of the world’s billionaires has increased steadily by 13 percent per year since 2010, according to a report released by Oxfam in January. This rate is six times faster than that of regular workers.

Between March 2016 and March 2017, the number of billionaires across the globe rose at an “unprecedented rate,” Oxfam said, with a new person joining the three comma club every two days in that year long period. 

However, even in the upper echelon of wealth, there are disparities when it comes to gender. According to the Forbes billionaires list for 2018, only three women are ranked in the world’s 35 wealthiest people. Each of the top three are heiresses, meaning they inherited at least part of their wealth from their family. 

To find self-made billionaire women, we had to search lower on the list. We found them somewhere near number 200. Each of these women have something in common: They’re Chinese. According to an article in the New York Times, China has the most self-made female billionaires out of any country.

Without further ado, here are some of the wealthiest women in the world. 

Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, waits onstage during the annual Walmart shareholders meeting event on June 1, 2018 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The shareholders week brings thousands of shareholders and associates from around the world to meet at the company’s global headquarters.

Alice Walton: $41.9 billion

Source of wealth: She is one of the heirs to Walmart Inc.

Career: Walton has spent the majority of her career in investment banking. She also founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in her hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas.

Age: 68

Citizenship: United States

Other interests: Walton has collected art since the age of 11. Today, her collection is worth nearly $500 million. 


Wu Yajun, founder and chairwoman of LongFor Properties, is interviewed by INSEAD about how she built her company.

Wu Yajun & family: $7.5 billion 

Source of wealth: She co-founded Longfor, a real estate development company, with her then husband.   

Career: She is the chairperson and largest shareholder for Longfor Properties.

Age: 54

Citizenship: China

Other interests: She worked as a journalist before entering the real estate business.

French writer Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers poses on August 28, 2011 in the French central city of Chanceau-pres-Loches as he participates in the 16th edition of ‘La Foret des Livres’, book fair. Francoise Meyers-Bettencourt is the heiress of Liliane Bettencourt.

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers and family: $48.7 billion

Source of wealth: Heiress to L’Oreal, the largest beauty and cosmetics company in the world, which her grandfather started in the early 1900s. 

Career: She’s the chairwoman of L’Oreal.

Age: 65

Citizenship: France

Other interests: Author of three books on topics such as Jewish-Christian relations and the Greek gods.

This picture taken on March 12, 2015 shows Zhou Qunfei, chairwoman and president of Hunan-based Lens Technology, during an interview in Changsha, central China’s Hunan province.

Zhou Qunfei: $6.5 billion

Source of wealth: She founded Lens Technology, a Chinese company that produces smartphone screens, in 2006. 

Career: She’s the chairwoman and CEO for Lens Technology.

Age: 48

Citizenship: Hong Kong

Other interests: She’s always had a knack for entrepreneurship. When she was 22 she started a watch lens company with her family.  

Jacqueline B. Mars arrives for the formal Artist’s Dinner honoring the recipients of the 39th Annual Kennedy Center Honors hosted by United States Secretary of State John F. Kerry at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, December 3, 2016. 


Jacqueline Mars: $24.8 billion

Source of wealth: Heiress to Mars, the world’s largest candy maker, which is responsible for popular brands like Milky Way, M&Ms, 3 Musketeers, Twix, Skittles, and Snickers.

Career: She worked at the company for nearly two decades and served on the board until 2016.

Age: 78

Citizenship: United States

Other interests: She’s very involved in philanthropy, serving on boards of the Smithsonian and the National Archives, to name a couple.

Chen Lihua attends the Time 100 Gala celebrating the Time 100 issue of the Most Influential People In The World at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 24, 2012 in New York.

Chen Lihua: $4.3 billion

Source of wealth: She is the founder and chairwoman of Fu Wah International Group, one of Beijing’s largest real estate developers. 

Career: She left high school early to start a furniture repair business, which was very successful. She started purchasing properties in Hong Kong, where she lived at the time, and eventually returned to China and launched Fu Wah International Group in the 1990s. 

Age: 77 

Citizenship: China 

Other interests: She is a big philanthropist and art enthusiast. She founded the China Red Sandalwood Museum, where she is the lead curator. 

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