World’s richest 1%: Where they live and what they own

Over half of the top 1% of the richest people in the world are from US, UK and Japan, a quarter of the poorest 20% are in India, shows Credit Suisse’s global wealth report


The Credit Suisse global wealth report underscores the increasing rich-poor gap and overall wealth inequality in the global economy. Photo: iStockphoto
The Credit Suisse global wealth report underscores the increasing rich-poor gap and overall wealth inequality in the global economy. Photo: iStockphoto

Who are the world’s richest 1% and how much do they own?

Instead of looking at inequality within a country, what if we consider inequality between countries? Given the vast differences in wealth between the rich, developed countries and the mass of poorer nations, inequality between countries should be higher.

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That is seen from Chart 1, which maps the Gini coefficient of wealth inequality for the world, for regions and for selected countries. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, with a score of zero denoting perfect equality and a score of 1 indicating perfect inequality—where only one person has all the wealth. The chart shows that the Gini coefficient for wealth inequality for the world as a whole is 92.7. Note that wealth inequality in India is higher than that in the Latin American, Europe and North American regions, despite these regions having countries with very varied levels of economic development. The data has been taken from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook for 2016.

We can also look at the inequality between countries by comparing their share of the world’s adult population against their share of global wealth. The details are given in Chart 2. The US, with 5.1% of the world’s adults, has 33.2% of global wealth. On the other hand, India with 16.7% of the world’s adult population has a mere 1.2% of the world’s wealth.

Of course, it’s not that everyone in the US is rich or everybody in India is poor. But if we take the world as a whole, how is wealth distributed within it? Chart 3 has the answer. The richest 1% of people in the world own 50.8% of global wealth. That’s up from 43.6% in 2010. As for the bottom half of the global population, their share has shrunk from 1.6% of the world’s wealth in 2010 to 0.2% now, according to the Credit Suisse wealth databook. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

The next question is: where does this top 1% who own more than half the wealth of the globe live? The answer is given in Chart 4, which shows that 37.9% of the global top 1% are from the US. More than a third of this global elite is American. Japan comes next, with a 9.7% share of the global richest 1% list.

The figure for India has been given in the chart for purposes of comparison. One in every 200 persons in the global top 1% is Indian. As the chart shows, the US, Japan and the UK account for more than half of the people in the global top 1%. And this top 1%, do not forget, own half the world’s wealth.

What about the fate of the poorest in the world? Chart 5 shows where the poorest 20% of the global population lives. One-fourth of the bottom 20% of the global population are Indians. Note that the bottom 20% of the global population own -0.4% of the world’s assets—the figure is negative because these people have more debt than assets and so their net worth is negative.

So the numbers from Credit Suisse show that the top 1% own half the world’s wealth, and more than half of this top 1% are from the US, UK and Japan. At the other extreme, the poorest 20% of the world have negative net worth and a quarter of these poorest people are Indians.

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