Cast a line in Newton, Wellesley, Winchester, or Hingham, and you are likely to snag a millionaire. The chances drop markedly, though, in Avon, Ayer, and Chelsea.
Those odds are courtesy of the state Department of Revenue, which recently released its latest figures on the number of Massachusetts taxpayers reporting incomes of $1 million or more.
The numbers, which come from taxes filed for 2012, show that 15,499 people reported million-dollar incomes that year, with an average annual gross just shy of $3.6 million.
The state processed just over 3.3 million returns altogether that year, and the number of millionaires was up significantly from the previous year, when there were 13,074 millionaire filers, according to spokeswoman Maryann Merigan.
The 2012 figures show the state’s largest city, Boston, with the most millionaire taxpayers — 1,698 — in sheer numbers, followed by Newton with 1,136, Wellesley (767), Weston (529), Brookline (442), and Lexington (379).
The Department of Revenue report, not surprisingly, found the largest number of suburban big earners in communities known for their wealth — with preponderance in the western suburbs where 15 communities each had more than 100 people reporting earnings of $1 million or more.
Winchester, with 266 millionaire filers, topped the list among suburbs north of Boston, followed by Andover with 244, Marblehead (157), North Andover (114), and Manchester-by-the-Sea (100). Gritty Lawrence, with a population of 77,300 and a per capita income of less than $12,000, and Lynn, with more than 91,000 people and an average income of about $18,000, each had fewer than three millionaire taxpayers.
South of Boston, Hingham — with a population of 22,500 and per capita income of $81,500 — had 288 millionaire filers, the most among south suburbs. Neighboring Cohasset counted 129 millionaire earners among its 8,195 residents.
The highest average income for millionaire taxpayers in one community was $10.9 million, reaped by the 15 mega earners in Norwood, according to the Department of Revenue report. Groton was a step down with an average income of $5.9 million reported by the 31 millionaire taxpayers living there. Sherborn’s 85 millionaires averaged $5.6 million, Wayland’s 199 averaged $5.5 million, and Weston’s 529 had an average income of $5.4 million.
As might be expected, traditionally blue-collar towns had fewer millionaire earners. But Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, a psychologist who has studied the correlation between wealth and satisfaction, said the high rollers who live in those communities are likely to be happier individuals.
“If they grew up there or stayed there [after they got rich], research would suggest they absolutely are happier,” said Norton, who is coauthor of “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.”
“It’s important who we compare ourselves to,” he said. “It turns out that if you have $100,000 and you lived in a neighborhood where everyone made $50,000, you’d [probably] be really happy. But if you lived in a neighborhood where everyone made $200,000, you wouldn’t be as happy.
“As you make more money, you [tend to] move to a nicer neighborhood, so you’re never really feeling like you’re getting ahead. One of the best things you can do is change your lifestyle slowly so you appreciate it more,” he added.
Economists Thomas Stanley and William Danko, who wrote “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” found that the bulk of the wealthy people they interviewed lived well below their means.
“What are the three words that profile the affluent: frugal, frugal, frugal,” the book intones.
Norton said research has found that spending money on other people, though, can make you happy — especially if you give to someone you know or with whom you are connected.
“We found that giving makes you happier in many countries — in the US, Canada, India, Uganda, South Africa, and others as well,” he said. “It seems to be a very universal thing that giving leads to happiness.”
Rob Hale, a millionaire from Hingham who heads Granite Telecommunications in Quincy and donates substantial amounts of money both personally and through his company, said he agrees “100 percent with the professor.”
“I’ve never thought about it in context of giving away money makes you happy, but it does,” Hale said. “And if you can give in a targeted fashion, it’s much more personal and much more emotionally satisfying. What we focus on, as a family, are things that tug at our heartstrings.”
For example, Hale has given about $10 million for pancreatic cancer research at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute because his father died from the disease.
Alan McKim, another Hingham millionaire and founder of the Norwell-based Clean Harbors hazardous waste cleanup company, also has given away large chunks of cash. His $30 million gift to Northeastern University landed McKim on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of 50 largest charitable donors in 2012.
Richard D’Amore, an Everett native and cofounder of North Bridge Venture Partners in Waltham, also was on the list. He matched McKim’s gift to Northeastern, which led to the D’Amore-McKim School of Business being named after them.
McKim and D’Amore, who both dropped out of Northeastern before returning to get degrees, said they hoped going public with their donations would encourage other alumni to give back to the school.
Millionaire Albert Stone would rather no one notices the money he gives away — which includes an estimated $20 million to the small town of Townsend for a new library, senior center, and meeting hall. The donation came with the caveat that none of the municipal buildings bear his name.
Stone is chairman of the board of Sterilite, the self-described “largest plastic housewares company in North America,” which moved to Townsend in 1968. He grew up in Haverhill and lives in Groton in a home the local assessors value at $465,600.
“I don’t talk about it,” Stone said of his philanthropy, in a recent attempt at a telephone interview. “I don’t care to.”
Norton said the research he and others are doing in the Behavioral Insights Group at Harvard could eventually affect public policy and taxes.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.