Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth; Richest tenth own 85% of world's assets

The Times
Richest tenth own 85% of world's assets
David Brown

Where the wealth is

The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth, according to the most comprehensive study of personal assets.

Among the largest economies, Britain boasted the third-highest average wealth of $126,832 (£64,172) per adult, after the United States and Japan, a United Nations development research institute found.

Those with assets of $500,000 could consider themselves to be among the richest 1 per cent in the world. Those with net assets of $2,200 per adult were in the top half of the wealth distribution.

Although global income was distributed unequally, the spread of wealth was more skewed, according to the study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN University.

“Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and high-income AsiaPacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90 per cent of total world wealth,” the report said.

Researchers defined wealth as the value of physical and financial assets minus debts.

The richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of assets. The bottom 50 per cent of the world’s adults owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth.

Among high-income nations, the amounts varied from $37,000 per person in New Zealand to $86,369 in Germany and $109,418 in the Netherlands.

In terms of wealth distribution the US was among the most unequal, whereas Japan had one of the lowest levels of inequality. Britain ranked with Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan in wealth inequality.

James Davies, Professor of Economics at the University of Western Ontario, and one of the authors of the report, said: “Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.

“There is a group of problems in developing countries that make it difficult for people to build assets, which are important, since life is so precarious.”

The gulf between rich and poor nations has long concerned politicians and economists, who say that it is one of the biggest bars to development.

Household wealth in 2000 was valued at $125 trillion, equivalent to about three times total global production, or $20,500 a person, according to The World Distribution of Household Wealth report.

Average wealth in the US was $143,727 a person in 2000, and in Japan, $180,837, it said.

In India the figure was $1,100, in Indonesia per capita wealth was $1,400, and in Zimbabwe, $1,465. The Democratic Republic of Congo came last with $180.

Professor Davies said that there were some hopeful signs: China and India, developing rapidly, were gaining wealth.

In countries such as Bangladesh, the spread of microcredit institutions was helping to increase personal wealth. In others, registration programmes were allowing the poor to own land for the first time, he said.

Anthony Shorrocks, the institute’s director, said: “Despite its rapid growth, China does not yet feature among the super-rich, because average wealth is modest and evenly spread by international standards.

“However, China is already likely to have more wealthy residents than our data reveals, and membership of the super-rich seems set to rise fast in the next decade.”

13,568,229: number of dollar millionaires in 2000

499: number of dollar billionaires in 2000

Source: The World Distribution of Household Wealth