World's Richest Women: Oprah NOT on Top

Last Updated Oct 20, 2010 5:35 PM EDT

Here's a shocker: Oprah Winfrey is NOT the number one self-made female billionaire in the world. In fact, a new survey shows that the largest number of self-made billionaire women come from China. For jingoist Americans, this is yet another sign that China is nipping at the heels of the US in terms of wealth creation. I think it's an amazing testament to what can happen when a country essentially moves from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first in just 2 decades.

Topping the list is Zhang Yin, founder of a paper recycling company, who is worth $5.6 billion. She's followed by two more Chinese women who are each worth more than $4 billion. To put that in perspective, Oprah ranked ninth with $2.3 billion and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is 20th with $1 billion. The numbers were compiled by the Hurun Report.

What explains the surge in China's wealthy women? One answer appears to be an intense work ethic and strong ambition. According to a study completed earlier this year by the Center for Work-Life Policy, just over one-third of all college-educated American women describe themselves as very ambitious, versus two thirds in China.

Here's another eye-popper: More than 75 percent of women in China aspire to hold a top corporate job, compared with just over half in the US. One of the more interesting findings from the study was that communism may have given women a boost, because it underscored that women could do whatever men could do. Who could have ever imagined that Maoist philosophy could be a calling card for capitalism?

Chinese women, like their American counterparts, still have a long way to go. Only 11 percent of the richest Chinese citizens are women and Chinese women have about a third less wealth than their male counterparts. Here in the US, the Census Bureau recently said that the number of women with six-figure incomes is rising at a much faster pace than it is for men. But overall, women still earn about twenty cents less on the dollar than men nationwide and only three percent of CEO's of publicly-traded companies are women.

  • Jill Schlesinger On Twitter» On Google+»

    View all articles by Jill Schlesinger on CBS MoneyWatch »
    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Emmy-nominated, Business Analyst for CBS News. She covers the economy, markets, investing and anything else with a dollar sign on TV, radio (including her nationally syndicated radio show), the web and her blog, "Jill on Money." Prior to her second career at CBS, Jill spent 14 years as the co-owner and Chief Investment Officer for an independent investment advisory firm. She began her career as a self-employed options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York, following her graduation from Brown University.