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A global study reveals an overwhelming wealth gap, with the world’s three richest people having more money than the poorest 48 nations combined.
The richest 2% of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s household wealth.
You may believe you’ve heard this statistic before, but you haven’t: For the first time, personal wealth — not income — has been measured around the world. The findings may be surprising, for what makes people “wealthy” across the world spectrum is a relatively low bar.
The research indicates that assets of just $2,200 per adult place a household in the top half of the world’s wealthiest. To be among the richest 10% of adults in the world, just $61,000 in assets is needed. If you have more than $500,000, you’re part of the richest 1%, the United Nations study says. Indeed, 37 million people now belong in that category.
Half live on less than $2 a day
Sure, you can now be proud that you’re rich. But take a moment to think about it, and you’ll probably come to realize that the meaning behind these numbers is harrowing. For if it takes just a couple of thousand dollars to qualify as rich in this world, imagine what it means to be poor.
Half the world, nearly 3 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. The three richest people in the world –- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, investor Warren Buffett and Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú — have more money than the poorest 48 nations combined.
Even relatively developed nations have low thresholds of per person capital. For example, people in India have per capita assets of $1,100. In Indonesia, capital amounts to $1,400 per person.
The study’s authors defined net worth as the value of people’s physical and financial assets, less debts.
“In this respect, wealth represents the ownership of capital,” the authors say. “Although capital is only one part of personal resources, it is widely believed to have a disproportionate impact on household well-being and economic success, and more broadly on economic development and growth.” That said, it’s interesting to look at how those at different economic levels manage their capital.
Property, particularly land and farm assets, are more important in less developed countries because of the greater importance of agriculture and because financial institutions are immature.
The study also reveals the differences in the types of financial assets owned. Savings accounts are strongly featured in transition economies and some rich Asian countries, while stock and other types of financial products are more commonplace in Western nations.
The authors say there is a stronger preference for saving and liquidity in Asian countries because of lack of confidence in financial markets. That isn’t so much the case in the United States and the United Kingdom, which have private pensions and more-developed financial markets, they say.
High incomes, negative net worth
Surprisingly, household debt is relatively unimportant in poor countries because, the study says, “while many poor people in poor countries are in debt, their debts are relatively small in total. This is mainly due to the absence of financial institutions that allow households to incur large mortgage and consumer debts, as is increasingly the situation in rich countries”
Meanwhile, “many people in high-income countries have negative net worth and — somewhat paradoxically — are among the poorest people in the world in terms of household wealth.
“But let’s not feel too bad about ourselves, even if we do have a negative savings rate. The average wealth in the United States is $144,000 per person. In Japan, it’s $181,000. Overall, wealth is mostly concentrated in North America, Europe and high-income Asia-Pacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90% of total world wealth.
The world’s total wealth is valuated at $125 trillion. Although North America has only 6% of the world’s adult population, it accounts for 34% of household wealth.
So be grateful for where you live in the world; it directly correlates to how much you have. But don’t bask in superiority: The fastest-growing population of wealthy people is in China.
Look out when this population transitions from saving to spending. It’s going to dramatically change the composition of the world economy, and it may just help prevent the world from becoming more of an plutocracy than it already is.
This article was reported and written by Thomas Kostigen for MarketWatch.