The Wide World of Wealth: Great disparities in global assessment

Global wealth has reached a new all-time high of $241 trillion, up 4.9 percent since last year and 68 percent since 2003, with the United States accounting for 72 percent of the latest increase. That’s the account of earthly wealth taken in the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. Average wealth per adult reached a new all-time high of $51,600, with wealth per adult in Switzerland, the highest in the world, breaking the $500,000 barrier for the second time in three years.

Not feeling any richer? That’s no surprise. If you don’t own stock and your home remains mired in a post-recession value daze (or you don’t own a home), your personal wealth probably hasn’t budged much or it’s even dropped a few percentage points or worse. In the United States, where the recovery has been tepid and unemployment remains high, few people outside of the top 10 percent of wealth holders have experienced any improvement in personal wealth since the technical end of the 2008-10 great recession.

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In fact most of the wealth created over the last few years of economic crisis has been concentrated into a tiny percentage of the globe’s inhabitants. Wealth inequality remains high, according to the report, with the top 10 percent of the world population owning 86 percent of global wealth. The top 1 percent alone accounts for 46 percent of all global assets. Credit Suisse reports that the bottom 50 percent of all global adults can lay claim to barely 1 percent of global wealth.

Some countries have achieved astounding levels of wealth inequality. "Russia has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world, apart from small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires," Credit Suisse reported. Just 110 individuals in the entire nation can personally lay claim to 35 percent of Russia’s wealth.

In 2013 Credit Suisse estimates that 3.2 billion individuals—more than two-thirds of adults in the world – have wealth below $10,000. Another 1 billion (23 percent of the world’s adult population) possess wealth that falls within the $10,000 to $100,000 range. The remaining 393 million adults (8 percent of the world) each have net worth in excess of $100,000. Credit Suisse reports they include 32 million “U.S. dollar” millionaires, a group that comprises less than 1 percent of the world’s adult population, yet collectively holds 41 percent of global household wealth. Within this group Credit Suisse estimates that 98,700 individuals are worth more than $50 million, and 33,900 are worth over $100 million.

The greatest concentration of wealth was found in the two norths, North America and northern Europe. The world’s least wealthy can be found in central Africa and south Asia. Credit Suisse expects global wealth to rise by nearly 40 percent over the next five years, reaching $334 trillion by 2018. It estimates that emerging markets will be responsible for 29 percent of that growth, and China on its own will account for nearly 50 percent of the increase in emerging economies’ wealth.

The United States posted a fifth successive year of rises in personal wealth. Fuelled by a recovery in house prices and a bull equity market which drove the Dow Jones to new highs, the United States added $8.1 trillion to the global wealth stock, increasing wealth ownership by 12.7 percent to $72.1 trillion. This is 20 percent more than the pre-crisis high in 2006 and 54 percent above the recent low in 2008, according to Credit Suisse.

The global average value of wealth, at just under $52,000, masks considerable variation across countries and regions. The richest nations, with wealth per adult over $100,000, are found in North America, Western Europe and among the rich Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern countries. They are headed by Switzerland, which in 2011 became the first country in which average wealth exceeded $500,000. It dropped below this mark in 2012, but this year equity price rises resulted in a new peak value of $513,000 per adult. Australia ($403,000), Norway ($380,000) and Luxembourg ($315,000) all experienced an increase in wealth per adult and retain their respective second, third and fourth places from 2012. The United States, Sweden, France, Singapore, Belgium and Denmark are close behind, with average wealth per adult in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.

The “intermediate wealth” group covers countries with mean wealth in the $25,000 to $100,000 range. Some European Union (EU) countries (Portugal, Malta and Slovenia) are situated at the top end of the band, while more recent EU entrants (Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovakia) are found lower down in the range. The intermediate wealth group also encompasses a number of Middle Eastern nations (Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia) and several Latin American countries (Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay) considered to be emerging markets. Hungary and Poland returned to the intermediate wealth group after a year’s absence. Libya and Turkey moved back into the group after several years away.

What Credit Suisse calls the“frontier wealth” range, from $5,000 to $25,000 per adult, covers the largest area of the world and most of the heavily populated countries, including China, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Philippines, Egypt and Iran. The band also contains many transition nations outside the E.U. (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Serbia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia), most of Latin America (Argentina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela), and many countries bordering the Mediterranean (Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia). South Africa recently belonged to the intermediate wealth group, but now falls in this category alongside other leading sub-Saharan nations: Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Namibia. Laos and Sri Lanka moved above $5,000 this year, to join their neighbor Thailand in this group.

The final group of countries with wealth below $5,000 is heavily concentrated in central Africa and south Asia. This group encompasses all of central Africa apart from Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. India is the most notable member of the Asia contingent, which also includes Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam. Languishing in the middle of this wealth range are also three countries bordering the EU: Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. 

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John O'Donoghue
4 years 1 month ago

Interesting information. However I would be more interested in median rather than mean values. Medians are statistically more robust and less skewed by outliers. In the data presented the mean wealth or income is very high due to the extremes of wealth enjoyed by a comparatively small group of individuals.

John O'Donoghue
4 years 1 month ago
Some of my concerns regarding the data are addressed when I read the report itself. Here are two quotes from the Credit Suisse report that give a very different picture to that given by the mean data, especially in regard to the United States with its current great level of inequality. From pages 7 and 8 of the report: "Interestingly, the ranking by median wealth per adult is slightly different, favoring countries with lower levels of wealth inequality. Australia (USD 220,000) tops the list again this year, with only Luxembourg (USD 183,000) in close contention. Median wealth in Belgium, France, Italy, the UK, and Japan lies in the USD 110,000 to 150,000 range. Switzerland, Finland and Norway have slightly lower values of around USD 95,000, but the United States is much further back with median wealth of just USD 45,000." And from page 11 of the report: "To determine how global wealth is distributed across households and individuals – rather than regions or countries – we combine our data on the level of household wealth across countries with information on the pattern of wealth distribution within countries. Our estimates for mid-2013 indi- cate that once debts have been subtracted, an adult requires just USD 4,000 in assets to be in the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, a person needs at least USD 75,000 to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and USD 753,000 to belong to the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest 10% hold 86% of the world’s wealth, and the top 1% alone account for 46% of global assets."
Francine Watson
3 years 11 months ago
The income gap between the rich elite and the shrinking class is bigger than it was a year ago. According to Forbes, much of the 400 wealthiest people in the nation saw their net worth boost since this time in 2011. Get more data here.

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