​With the rise of the 1 percent, butlers are in demand

While the service sector is one of the fastest-growing employment sectors, with fast-food restaurants and retailers adding low-paid staff, there's one high-end area of the market that's also booming, thanks to the growing ranks of millionaires: Butlers.

The number of butlers has risen, souffle-like, from just a few hundred in Britain 35 years ago to roughly 10,000 in the U.K. today, as well as thousands in fast-growing markets such as China, GQ's David Katz notes.

As the top 1 percent grow richer, some are looking to butlers as a new status symbol. In China, the popularity of the period television show "Downton Abbey" has spurred some of the country's elite to hire their own version of Carson, the perfectionist butler to the Earl and Countess of Grantham. Demand is so high in China that an outpost of the International Butler Academy opened in Chengdu last year, offering to train Chinese in the way of "buttling," which is the verb for what butlers do.

"For the Chinese, it's a status thing," Sara Vestin Rahmini, who founded the butler-training company Bespoke Bureau, told GQ. "They're like, 'Just send us somebody who looks British, who looks European.'"

Those who involve themselves in buttling can make a fair living. In the Middle East and China, where there are fewer butlers but great demand, a newbie can start out at $60,000. For those in the U.K. and other Western countries, the starting salary is about $40,000. But with a few years experience, that can jump to six figures.

One newly trained butler was hired last year in the United Arab Emirates for $158,000, the BBC reports. That alone would place the butler in the top 8 percent of earners in the U.S., although of course that's a mere pittance to the top .01 percent, who have a net worth of $100 million.

And the top 1 percent -- as well as the top .1 percent and top .01 percent -- have seen their wealth grow by staggering leaps. From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent took in over half of the total increase in U.S. income, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Worldwide, the number of millionaires rose to a record 12 million people in 2012, a jump of more than 9 percent, according to the World Wealth Report.

While the pay for butlers is certainly on the high end for the service industry -- witness the median annual wage of $18,590 per year for ordinary waitstaff -- the demands are also stringent, given the requirements of serving an ultra-rich "principal," which is what butlers call their employers.

"I travel bi-weekly and I am expected to be on call 24/7, caring for my principal's personal things like clothes, travel bookings, reservations and shopping," one butler told the BBC. He said he earns about $118,000. "I also have to make sure he's always looking good and that he stays hydrated in the heat."

While that might sound like the job description of any parent, butlers can't vent or express frustration with their charges, GQ notes. They also can't leave their job due to family emergencies; for the butler, his personal life takes a back seat to that of his employer's.

So how does one become a butler? Many train at agencies such as Bespoke Bureau, which not only trains butlers, but also offers courses on serving as the "interior crew" on a yacht and a finishing school to teach British manners and etiquette to "the modern woman." Two weeks at the school will put you back about $5,000.

  • Aimee Picchi

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