Distribution of wealth

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Global share of wealth by wealth group, Credit Suisse, 2021
World distribution of wealth, GDP, and population by region in the year 2000. Created with openoffice.org Calc. Data obtained from the UNU-WIDER report on worldwide distribution of household wealth: Press release. The World Distribution of Household Wealth. December 5, 2006. By James B. Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff. Tables to the 2006 report in Excel (including Gini coefficients for 229 countries). UNU-WIDER.

The distribution of wealth is a comparison of the wealth of various members or groups in a society. It shows one aspect of economic inequality or economic heterogeneity.

The distribution of wealth differs from the income distribution in that it looks at the economic distribution of ownership of the assets in a society, rather than the current income of members of that society. According to the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, "the world distribution of wealth is much more unequal than that of income."[1]

For rankings regarding wealth, see list of countries by wealth equality or list of countries by wealth per adult.

Definition of wealth[edit]

Wealth of an individual is defined as net worth, expressed as: wealth = assetsliabilities

A broader definition of wealth, which is rarely used in the measurement of wealth inequality, also includes human capital. For example, the United Nations definition of inclusive wealth is a monetary measure which includes the sum of natural, human and physical assets.[2][3]

The relation between wealth, income, and expenses is: :change of wealth = saving = income − consumption(expenses). If an individual has a large income but also large expenses, the net effect of that income on her or his wealth could be small or even negative.

Conceptual framework[edit]

There are many ways in which the distribution of wealth can be analyzed. One common-used example is to compare the amount of the wealth of individual at say 99 percentile relative to the wealth of the median (or 50th) percentile. This is P99/P50, which is one of the potential Kuznets ratios. Another common measure is the ratio of total amount of wealth in the hand of top say 1% of the wealth distribution over the total wealth in the economy. In many societies, the richest ten percent control more than half of the total wealth.

The Pareto Distribution has often been used to mathematically quantify the distribution of wealth at the right tail (the wealth of very rich). In fact, the tail of wealth distributions, similar to that of income distribution, behaves like a Pareto distribution but with a thicker tail.

Wealth over people (WOP) curves are a visually compelling way to show the distribution of wealth in a nation. WOP curves are modified distribution of wealth curves. The vertical and horizontal scales each show percentages from zero to one hundred. We imagine all the households in a nation being sorted from richest to poorest. They are then shrunk down and lined up (richest at the left) along the horizontal scale. For any particular household, its point on the curve represents how their wealth compares (as a proportion) to the average wealth of the richest percentile. For any nation, the average wealth of the richest 1/100 of households is the topmost point on the curve (people, 1%; wealth, 100%) or (p=1, w=100) or (1, 100). In the real world two points on the WOP curve are always known before any statistics are gathered. These are the topmost point (1, 100) by definition, and the rightmost point (poorest people, lowest wealth) or (p=100, w=0) or (100, 0). This unfortunate rightmost point is given because there are always at least one percent of households (incarcerated, long term illness, etc.) with no wealth at all. Given that the topmost and rightmost points are fixed ... our interest lies in the form of the WOP curve between them. There are two extreme possible forms of the curve. The first is the "perfect communist" WOP. It is a straight line from the leftmost (maximum wealth) point horizontally across the people scale to p=99. Then it drops vertically to wealth = 0 at (p=100, w=0).

The other extreme is the "perfect tyranny" form. It starts on the left at the Tyrant's maximum wealth of 100%. It then immediately drops to zero at p=2, and continues at zero horizontally across the rest of the people. That is, the tyrant and his friends (the top percentile) own all the nation's wealth. All other citizens are serfs or slaves. An obvious intermediate form is a straight line connecting the left/top point to the right/bottom point. In such a "Diagonal" society a household in the richest percentile would have just twice the wealth of a family in the median (50th) percentile. Such a society is compelling to many (especially the poor). In fact it is a comparison to a diagonal society that is the basis for the Gini values used as a measure of the disequity in a particular economy. These Gini values (40.8 in 2007) show the United States to be the third most dis-equitable economy of all the developed nations (behind Denmark and Switzerland).

More sophisticated models have also been proposed.[4]

Theoretical approaches[edit]

To model aspects of the distribution and holdings of wealth, there have been many different types of theories used. Before the 1960s, the data regarding this was collected mostly from wealth tax and estate tax records, with further proof gathered from small unrepresentative examinations and a variety of other sources. The results from these sources tended to show that the distribution of wealth was very unequally, and that material inheritance had a big role in the matter of wealth differences and in the transmission of the status of wealth from generation to generation. There was also reason to believe that the inequality in wealth was shrinking over time, and also the distribution’s shape demonstrated particular statistical regularities that could not have been caused by coincidence. Thus, early theoretical work on the distribution of wealth wanted to explain the statistical regularities, and also comprehend the relationship of basic forces which could be an explanation for the concentration of wealth to be high and the trend of declining over time.[5]

More lately, the research about wealth distribution has moved away from the worry with overall distributional characteristics, and in its place focuses more on the grounds of individual differences in the holdings of wealth.[5] This change was caused partly because the importance of saving for retirement increased, and it is reflected in the vital role now assigned to the model of lifecycle savings developed by Modigliani and Brumberg[6] (1954), and Ando and Modigliani[7] (1963). Another important progress has been the increase in availability and finesse in sets of micro-data, which offer not just estimations of individuals’ asset holdings and savings but also a variety of other household and personal characteristics that can assist in explain the differences in wealth.[5]

Inequality[edit]

Share of wealth globally by year, as seen by Oxfam,[8] based on the net worth[9]

Wealth distribution pyramid[edit]

Pyramid of global wealth distribution in 2013[10]

In 2013, Credit Suisse prepared a wealth pyramid infographic (shown right). Personal assets were calculated in net worth, meaning wealth would be negated by having any mortgages.[9] It has a large base of low wealth holders, alongside upper tiers occupied by progressively fewer people. In 2013 Credit-suisse estimate that 3.2 billion individuals – more than two thirds of adults in the world – have wealth below US$10,000. A further one billion (adult population) fall within the 10,000 – US$100,000 range. While the average wealth holding is modest in the base and middle segments of the pyramid, their total wealth amounts to US$40 trillion, underlining the potential for novel consumer products and innovative financial services targeted at this often neglected segment.[10]

The pyramid shows that:

  • half of the world's net wealth belongs to the top 1%,
  • top 10% of adults hold 85%, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world's total wealth,
  • top 30% of adults hold 97% of the total wealth.

Wealth distribution in 2012[edit]

According to the OECD in 2012 the top 0.6% of world population (consisting of adults with more than US$1 million in assets) or the 42 million richest people in the world held 39.3% of world wealth. The next 4.4% (311 million people) held 32.3% of world wealth. The bottom 95% held 28.4% of world wealth. The large gaps of the report get by the Gini index to 0.893, and are larger than gaps in global income inequality, measured in 2009 at 0.38.[11] For example, in 2012 the bottom 60% of the world population held same wealth in 2012 as the people on Forbes' Richest list consisting of 1,226 richest billionaires of the world.

21st century[edit]

Countries by total wealth (trillions USD), Credit Suisse

At the end of the 20th century, wealth was concentrated among the G8 and Western industrialized nations, along with several Asian and OPEC nations.

Wealth inequality[edit]

A study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned 1% of global wealth.[12]

Moreover, another study found that the richest 2% own more than half of global household assets.[13]

Real estate[edit]

While sizeable numbers of households own no land, few have no income. For example, the top 10% of land owners (all corporations) in Baltimore, Maryland own 58% of the taxable land value. The bottom 10% of those who own any land own less than 1% of the total land value.[14] This form of analysis as well as Gini coefficient analysis has been used to support land value taxation.

Credit Suisse Report – Wealth Distribution & Gini (2021)[edit]

This table was created from information provided by the Credit Suisse Research Institute's "Global Wealth Databook", Table 3-1, published 2021.[15]

Country Adults
(1,000)
Wealth per
adult (USD)
Distribution of adults (%) by wealth range (USD) Gini
(%)
Mean Median Under 10k 10k – 100k 100k – 1M Over 1M Total
 Afghanistan 18,356 1,744 734 97.6 2.4 0.1 0.0 100 72.8
 Albania 2,187 30,524 15,363 41.0 54.2 4.7 0.1 100 68.2
 Algeria 27,620 8,871 2,302 87.0 11.7 1.2 0.1 100 84.8
 Angola 14,339 3,529 1,131 93.5 6.2 0.2 0.0 100 80.6
 Argentina 30,799 7,224 2,157 88.2 11.2 0.6 0.0 100 81.2
 Armenia 2,176 22,573 9,411 52.3 44.0 3.5 0.1 100 73.0
 Australia 19,159 483,755 238,072 9.8 20.7 60.0 9.4 100 65.6
 Austria 7,271 290,348 91,833 14.2 36.9 44.1 4.8 100 73.5
 Azerbaijan 7,155 11,926 5,022 73.5 25.2 1.3 0.0 100 72.7
 Bahamas 278 56,737 7,507 54.0 39.7 5.7 0.6 100 91.4
 Bahrain 1,318 87,559 14,520 45.0 48.0 6.1 0.9 100 88.9
 Bangladesh 106,060 7,837 3,062 84.6 14.6 0.7 0.0 100 75.2
 Barbados 221 63,261 21,071 41.0 46.0 12.4 0.6 100 80.4
 Belarus 7,367 23,278 12,168 45.9 51.3 2.8 0.1 100 66.7
 Belgium 8,993 351,327 230,548 11.9 20.1 62.3 5.7 100 60.3
 Belize 245 10,364 3,015 82.0 16.6 1.4 0.0 100 83.4
 Benin 5,839 2,558 890 95.6 4.3 0.1 0.0 100 78.2
 Bolivia 7,088 12,286 3,804 78.1 20.5 1.3 0.1 100 81.0
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 2,637 30,597 15,283 41.0 54.1 4.8 0.1 100 68.6
 Botswana 1,358 15,598 3,680 80.0 16.8 3.1 0.1 100 87.3
 Brazil 153,307 18,272 3,469 79.5 17.5 2.8 0.1 100 89.0
 British Caribbean 567 45,109 14,684 44.0 47.7 7.9 0.4 100 80.8
 Brunei 309 39,098 5,122 64.0 32.1 3.5 0.4 100 91.6
 Bulgaria 5,586 36,443 17,403 38.7 54.9 6.2 0.2 100 70.1
 Burkina Faso 9,48 1,681 622 98.0 1.9 0.1 0.0 100 76.8
 Burundi 5,381 728 281 99.5 0.5 0.0 0.0 100 75.1
 Cambodia 10,180 5,895 2,031 90.7 8.7 0.6 0.0 100 78.7
 Cameroon 12,716 3,042 941 94.3 5.5 0.2 0.0 100 81.6
 Canada 29,934 332,323 125,688 20.7 25.1 48.6 5.6 100 71.9
 Central African Republic 2,161 840 212 98.8 1.2 0.0 0.0 100 85.9
 Chad 7,059 1,117 355 98.7 1.3 0.1 0.0 100 80.6
 Chile 14,259 53,591 17,747 39.1 51.6 8.8 0.5 100 79.7
 China 1,104,956 67,771 24,067 20.9 66.1 12.5 0.5 100 70.4
 Colombia 35,612 16,928 4,854 72.0 25.4 2.5 0.1 100 82.7
 Comoros 447 5,397 1,466 91.5 7.9 0.6 0.0 100 84.8
 Congo, Dem. Rep. 39,740 1,24 356 98.3 1.6 0.1 0.0 100 83.2
 Congo, Rep. 2,707 2,18 582 95.6 4.2 0.1 0.0 100 84.7
 Costa Rica 3,696 44,337 14,662 44.0 47.4 8.4 0.3 100 79.9
 Croatia 3,303 69,14 34,945 27.0 57.0 15.5 0.5 100 68.5
 Cyprus 679 142,304 35,300 23.0 57.0 18.3 1.7 100 80.7
 Czechia 8,528 78,103 23,794 29.6 55.7 14.0 0.7 100 77.7
 Denmark 4,557 376,069 165,622 15.4 25.4 52.5 6.7 100 73.6
 Djibouti 618 3,112 1,077 94.0 6.0 0.0 0.0 100 78.8
 Dutch Caribbean 258 40,909 16,810 40.0 52.7 7.1 0.2 100 69.1
 Ecuador 11,361 17,151 5,444 69.9 27.9 2.1 0.1 100 80.8
 Egypt 59,547 19,468 6,329 66.5 30.7 2.6 0.1 100 79.2
 El Salvador 4,201 34,003 11,372 47.6 46.0 6.2 0.2 100 79.1
 Equatorial Guinea 776 18,246 4,561 77.0 18.8 4.1 0.1 100 86.3
 Eritrea 1,728 2,846 1,086 95.2 4.7 0.1 0.0 100 75.7
 Estonia 1,044 77,817 38,901 30.5 53.5 15.3 0.7 100 73.8
 Ethiopia 57,104 3,540 1,527 94.4 5.4 0.2 0.0 100 71.1
 Fiji 564 15,708 5,764 69.0 28.3 2.6 0.1 100 77.4
 Finland 4,373 167,711 73,775 27.8 35.2 35.1 1.9 100 74.0
 France 49,967 299,355 133,559 14.8 27.0 53.3 4.9 100 70.0
 French Caribbean 631 68,443 23,740 36.0 44.0 19.5 0.5 100 73.8
 Gabon 1,216 13,696 4,685 74.0 24.5 1.4 0.1 100 79.3
 Gambia 1,115 2,5 658 94.9 4.9 0.2 0.0 100 84.9
 Georgia 2,959 14,162 4,223 77.7 20.7 1.5 0.1 100 81.3
 Germany 68,015 268,681 65,374 10.6 45.2 39.8 4.3 100 77.9
 Ghana 16,617 6,132 2,198 88.5 11.1 0.4 0.0 100 77.5
 Greece 8,462 104,603 57,595 22.1 49.3 27.7 0.9 100 65.7
 Guinea 6,078 2,942 938 94.5 5.4 0.2 0.0 100 80.8
 Guinea-Bissau 949 1,828 670 97.0 3.0 0.0 0.0 100 77.6
 Guyana 497 12,280 4,637 74.0 24.6 1.4 0.0 100 76.5
 Haiti 6,621 767 193 99.2 0.7 0.0 0.0 100 85.2
 Hong Kong 6,292 503,335 173,768 13.7 23.7 54.3 8.3 100 74.6
 Hungary 7,769 53,664 24,126 21.4 67.6 10.7 0.3 100 66.5
 Iceland 255 337,787 231,462 6.0 18.0 70.7 5.3 100 50.9
 India 900,443 14,252 3,194 77.2 21.1 1.7 0.1 100 82.3
 Indonesia 180,782 17,693 4,693 67.2 30.8 1.9 0.1 100 77.7
 Iran 57,987 22,249 7,621 59.1 37.1 3.7 0.1 100 78.6
 Iraq 21,247 14,506 6,378 68.3 30.1 1.6 0.1 100 71.0
 Ireland 3,619 266,153 99,028 30.8 19.7 44.5 5.0 100 80.0
 Israel 5,626 228,268 80,315 15.8 41.2 40.1 2.9 100 73.4
 Italy 49,746 239,244 118,885 15.5 30.1 51.4 3.0 100 66.5
 Jamaica 2,041 19,893 5,976 66.7 30.3 2.9 0.1 100 82.0
 Japan 104,953 256,596 122,980 11.0 32.6 52.9 3.5 100 64.4
 Jordan 5,866 28,316 10,842 48.3 47.1 4.5 0.2 100 75.9
 Kazakhstan 12,226 33,463 12,029 46.3 49.3 4.2 0.2 100 76.4
 Kenya 27,473 12,313 3,683 79.6 18.8 1.5 0.1 100 82.2
 Korea 42,490 211,369 89,671 14.8 38.3 44.4 2.5 100 67.6
 Kuwait 3,146 129,890 28,698 42.8 44.0 10.7 2.5 100 86.5
 Kyrgyzstan 3,927 5,816 2,238 89.7 9.8 0.5 0.0 100 75.7
 Laos 4,288 7,379 1,610 91.6 7.0 1.3 0.0 100 87.9
 Latvia 1,477 70,454 33,884 36.0 50.5 12.7 0.8 100 80.9
 Lebanon 4,548 55,007 18,159 40.6 50.5 8.4 0.5 100 79.7
 Lesotho 1,243 1,226 264 97.8 2.2 0.1 0.0 100 88.6
 Liberia 2,502 4,453 1,464 91.9 7.8 0.3 0.0 100 80.1
 Libya 4,440 17,198 6,512 67.0 31.0 1.9 0.1 100 76.0
 Lithuania 2,166 63,500 29,679 29.3 58.0 12.2 0.5 100 71.0
 Luxembourg 498 477,306 259,899 13.0 19.0 59.2 8.8 100 67.0
 Madagascar 13,812 1,962 666 96.9 3.0 0.1 0.0 100 79.3
 Malawi 8,887 2,045 606 96.2 3.7 0.1 0.0 100 82.4
 Malaysia 22,315 29,287 8,583 55.0 41.1 3.7 0.2 100 82.9
 Maldives 409 25,511 8,519 56.0 39.3 4.5 0.2 100 79.8
 Mali 8,625 2,424 869 96.0 3.9 0.1 0.0 100 77.6
 Malta 358 148,934 84,390 13.0 45.0 40.6 1.4 100 61.7
 Mauritania 2,370 2,788 1,037 95.2 4.7 0.1 0.0 100 76.3
 Mauritius 968 63,372 27,456 31.0 56.0 12.5 0.5 100 72.1
 Melanesia 711 31,106 12,183 46.0 48.6 5.2 0.2 100 75.8
 Mexico 85,136 42,689 13,752 44.7 46.9 8.1 0.3 100 80.5
 Micronesia 341 13,193 4,876 74.0 23.9 2.1 0.0 100 77.9
 Moldova 3,188 15,491 7,577 61.8 36.5 1.7 0.0 100 69.4
 Mongolia 2,053 6,324 2,546 88.0 11.5 0.5 0.0 100 74.4
 Montenegro 476 60,310 30,739 29.0 57.0 13.6 0.4 100 68.4
 Morocco 24,654 13,459 3,874 78.4 19.7 1.9 0.1 100 81.9
 Mozambique 14,186 1,003 345 98.9 1.0 0.1 0.0 100 79.1
 Myanmar 35,734 5,025 2,458 91.7 8.0 0.3 0.0 100 67.0
 Namibia 1,375 15,294 3,677 80.5 16.4 3.0 0.1 100 86.6
 Nepal 17,887 4,056 1,437 93.3 6.3 0.3 0.0 100 78.1
 Netherlands 13,462 377,092 136,105 13.6 29.4 49.3 7.7 100 75.3
 New Zealand 3,600 348,198 171,624 21.2 20.0 52.5 6.3 100 69.9
 Nicaragua 4,107 12,239 3,694 78.2 20.5 1.3 0.1 100 81.0
 Niger 9,739 1,287 492 98.7 1.3 0.1 0.0 100 75.6
 Nigeria 95,931 6,451 1,474 91.7 7.6 0.7 0.0 100 85.8
 Norway 4,184 275,880 117,798 28.0 19.0 48.8 4.2 100 78.5
 Oman 3,765 39,434 9,886 50.5 43.1 6.0 0.4 100 86.7
 Pakistan 123,522 5,258 2,187 90.5 9.2 0.4 0.0 100 73.2
 Panama 2,843 43,979 13,147 45.3 46.6 7.8 0.3 100 82.5
 Papua New Guinea 4,941 6,710 1,790 91.3 7.7 1.0 0.0 100 84.3
 Paraguay 4,454 11,962 3,644 78.8 19.9 1.2 0.1 100 81.6
 Peru 22,53 17,017 5,445 70.4 27.4 2.1 0.1 100 80.1
 Philippines 66,960 15,290 3,155 83.1 14.8 2.0 0.1 100 86.9
 Poland 30,315 67,477 23,550 19.8 64.8 14.9 0.5 100 70.7
 Polynesia 423 37,998 14,076 44.0 49.3 6.4 0.3 100 77.9
 Portugal 8,339 142,537 61,306 23.2 45.1 30.0 1.6 100 70.5
 Qatar 2,396 146,730 83,680 12.0 45.3 41.7 1.0 100 58.1
 Romania 15,208 50,009 23,675 32.1 58.5 9.1 0.3 100 70.1
 Russia 111,845 27,162 5,431 72.8 23.8 3.1 0.2 100 87.8
 Rwanda 6,581 4,188 1,266 92.8 6.9 0.3 0.0 100 81.9
 Sao Tome and Principe 104 4,029 1,702 92.4 7.3 0.2 0.0 100 73.1
 Saudi Arabia 24,186 68,697 15,495 46.4 44.4 8.2 1.0 100 86.7
 Senegal 7,975 4,702 1,570 91.4 8.3 0.3 0.0 100 79.7
 Serbia 5,480 31,705 14,954 41.7 52.9 5.3 0.1 100 70.6
 Seychelles 69 63,427 24,651 36.0 51.0 12.5 0.5 100 75.9
 Sierra Leone 3,937 995 370 99.0 0.9 0.0 0.0 100 76.7
 Singapore 4,887 332,995 86,717 16.2 38.6 39.7 5.5 100 78.3
 Slovakia 4,346 68,059 45,853 11.6 69.8 18.4 0.2 100 50.3
 Slovenia 1,672 120,173 67,961 18.0 53.0 28.2 0.8 100 67.1
 South Africa 37,590 20,308 4,523 75.8 20.2 3.9 0.2 100 88.0
 Spain 37,798 227,122 105,831 16.7 31.6 48.6 3.0 100 69.2
 Sri Lanka 14,732 23,832 8,802 54.3 42.0 3.7 0.1 100 76.8
 Sudan 21,941 1,014 383 99.0 0.9 0.1 0.0 100 75.9
 Suriname 382 5,644 1,349 91.2 8.1 0.7 0.0 100 87.1
 Sweden 7,794 336,166 89,846 34.0 18.4 40.3 7.3 100 87.2
 Switzerland 6,958 673,962 146,733 11.9 33.7 39.6 14.9 100 78.1
 Syria 10,811 2,197 807 96.3 3.6 0.1 0.0 100 77.2
 Taiwan 19,633 238,862 93,044 13.9 38.6 44.4 3.1 100 70.8
 Tajikistan 5,227 4,390 1,844 92.4 7.3 0.3 0.0 100 73.1
 Tanzania 27,744 3,647 1,433 93.7 6.1 0.2 0.0 100 74.5
 Thailand 54,054 25,292 8,036 55.5 41.9 2.5 0.2 100 77.1
 Timor-Leste 689 5,185 2,838 91.4 8.3 0.3 0.0 100 62.6
 Togo 4,084 1,484 468 98.0 2.0 0.1 0.0 100 81.2
 Trinidad and Tobago 1,032 44,182 15,649 42.5 49.0 8.2 0.3 100 78.0
 Tunisia 8,207 17,55 6,177 67.4 30.2 2.3 0.1 100 77.8
 Turkey 57,768 27,466 8,001 57.6 38.8 3.4 0.2 100 81.8
 Turkmenistan 3,722 20,328 9,030 54.0 43.2 2.7 0.1 100 70.6
 Uganda 19,830 1,994 646 96.6 3.3 0.1 0.0 100 80.4
 Ukraine 34,639 13,104 2,529 79.1 19.5 1.3 0.1 100 84.4
 United Arab Emirates 8,053 115,476 21,613 45.1 46.0 6.8 2.1 100 88.8
 United Kingdom 52,568 290,754 131,522 18.0 27.8 49.5 4.7 100 71.7
 United States 249,969 505,421 79,274 26.3 28.5 36.4 8.8 100 85.0
 Uruguay 2,53 60,914 22,088 37.0 51.3 11.2 0.4 100 77.2
 Venezuela 18,359 21,040 7,341 60.5 36.8 2.5 0.1 100 78.1
 Vietnam 68,565 14,075 4,559 76.3 21.9 1.8 0.1 100 80.2
 Yemen 15,281 5,581 1,223 93.0 6.2 0.8 0.0 100 88.0
 Zambia 8,331 3,068 692 94.3 5.5 0.2 0.0 100 87.7
 Zimbabwe 7,086 7,131 2,356 86.9 12.5 0.6 0.0 100 79.8

In the United States[edit]

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Distribution of net worth in the United States (2007). The net wealth of many people in the lowest 20% is negative because of debt.[16]

  Top 1% (35%)
  Next 4% (27%)
  Next 5% (11%)
  Next 10% (12%)
  Upper Middle 20% (11%)
  Middle 20% (4%)
  Bottom 40% (<1%)

According to PolitiFact, in 2011 the 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined."[17][18][19][20] Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a "substantial head start".[21][22] In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest 400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege".[23]

In 2007, the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country's total wealth (excluding human capital),[clarification needed] and the next 19% owned 50.5%. The top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%. From 1922 to 2010, the share of the top 1% varied from 19.7% to 44.2%, the big drop being associated with the drop in the stock market in the late 1970s. Ignoring the period where the stock market was depressed (1976–1980) and the period when the stock market was overvalued (1929), the share of wealth of the richest 1% remained extremely stable, at about a third of the total wealth.[24] Financial inequality was greater than inequality in total wealth, with the top 1% of the population owning 42.7%, the next 19% of Americans owning 50.3%, and the bottom 80% owning 7%.[25] However, after the Great Recession which started in 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew from 34.6% to 37.1%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans grew from 85% to 87.7%. The Great Recession also caused a drop of 36.1% in median household wealth but a drop of only 11.1% for the top 1%, further widening the gap between the 1% and the 99%.[16][24][25] During the economic expansion between 2002 and 2007, the income of the top 1% grew 10 times faster than the income of the bottom 90%. In this period 66% of total income gains went to the 1%, who in 2007 had a larger share of total income than at any time since 1928.

Dan Ariely and Michael Norton show in a study (2011) that US citizens across the political spectrum significantly underestimate the current US wealth inequality and would prefer a more egalitarian distribution of wealth, raising questions about ideological disputes over issues like taxation and welfare.[26]

According to a 2020 study by the RAND Corporation, $2.5 trillion is redistributed from the bottom 90% of Americans to the wealthiest 1% of Americans every year.[27]

Wealth proportion by population by year (including homes)[24][28]
Year Bottom
99%
Top
1%
1922 63.3% 36.7%
1929 55.8% 44.2%
1933 66.7% 33.3%
1939 63.6% 36.4%
1945 70.2% 29.8%
1949 72.9% 27.1%
1953 68.8% 31.2%
1962 68.2% 31.8%
1965 65.6% 34.4%
1969 68.9% 31.1%
1972 70.9% 29.1%
1976 80.1% 19.9%
1979 79.5% 20.5%
1981 75.2% 24.8%
1983 69.1% 30.9%
1986 68.1% 31.9%
1989 64.3% 35.7%
1992 62.8% 37.2%
1995 61.5% 38.5%
1998 61.9% 38.1%
2001 66.6% 33.4%
2004 65.7% 34.3%
2007 65.4% 34.6%
2010 64.6% 35.4%
Wealth inequality in the United States increased from 1989 to 2013.[29]

World distribution of wealth[edit]

Worlds regions by total wealth (in trillions USD), 2018

By region[edit]

Region Proportion of world (%)[24][30]
Population Net worth GDP
PPP Exchange rates PPP Exchange rates
North America 5.2 27.1 34.4 23.9 33.7
Central/South America 8.5 6.5 4.3 8.5 6.4
Europe 9.6 26.4 29.2 22.8 32.4
Africa 10.7 1.5 0.5 2.4 1.0
Middle East 9.9 5.1 3.1 5.7 4.1
Asia 52.2 29.4 25.6 31.1 24.1
Other 3.2 3.7 2.6 5.4 3.4
Totals (rounded) 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

World distribution of financial wealth. In 2007, 147 companies controlled nearly 40 percent of the monetary value of all transnational corporations.[31]

Wealth concentration[edit]

Wealth concentration is a process by which created wealth, under some conditions, can become concentrated by individuals or entities. Those who hold wealth have the means to invest in newly created sources and structures of wealth, or to otherwise leverage the accumulation of wealth, and are thus the beneficiaries of even greater wealth.

Economic conditions[edit]

Global share of wealth by wealth group

The first necessary condition for the phenomenon of wealth concentration to occur is an unequal initial distribution of wealth. The distribution of wealth throughout the population is often closely approximated by a Pareto distribution, with tails which decay as a power-law in wealth. (See also: Distribution of wealth and Economic inequality). According to PolitiFact and others, the 400 wealthiest Americans had "more wealth than half of all Americans combined."[17][18][19][20] Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a "substantial head start".[21][22] In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest 400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege".[23]

The second condition is that a small initial inequality must, over time, widen into a larger inequality. This is an example of positive feedback in an economic system. A team from Jagiellonian University produced statistical model economies showing that wealth condensation can occur whether or not total wealth is growing (if it is not, this implies that the poor could become poorer).[32]

Joseph E. Fargione, Clarence Lehman and Stephen Polasky demonstrated in 2011 that chance alone, combined with the deterministic effects of compounding returns, can lead to unlimited concentration of wealth, such that the percentage of all wealth owned by a few entrepreneurs eventually approaches 100%.[33][34]

Correlation between being rich and earning more[edit]

Given an initial condition in which wealth is unevenly distributed (i.e., a "wealth gap"[35]), several non-exclusive economic mechanisms for wealth condensation have been proposed:

  • A correlation between being rich and being given high-paid employment (oligarchy).
  • A marginal propensity to consume low enough that high incomes are correlated with people who have already made themselves rich (meritocracy).
  • The ability of the rich to influence government disproportionately to their favor thereby increasing their wealth (plutocracy).[36]

In the first case, being wealthy gives one the opportunity to earn more through high paid employment (e.g., by going to elite schools). In the second case, having high paid employment gives one the opportunity to become rich (by saving your money). In the case of plutocracy, the wealthy exert power over the legislative process, which enables them to increase the wealth disparity.[37] An example of this is the high cost of political campaigning in some countries, in particular in the US (more generally, see also plutocratic finance).

Because these mechanisms are non-exclusive, it is possible for all three explanations to work together for a compounding effect, increasing wealth concentration even further. Obstacles to restoring wage growth might have more to do with the broader dysfunction of a dollar dominated system particular to the US than with the role of the extremely wealthy.[38]

Counterbalances to wealth concentration include certain forms of taxation, in particular wealth tax, inheritance tax and progressive taxation of income. However, concentrated wealth does not necessarily inhibit wage growth for ordinary workers.[39]

Markets with social influence[edit]

Product recommendations and information about past purchases have been shown to influence consumers choices significantly whether it is for music, movie, book, technological, and other type of products. Social influence often induces a rich-get-richer phenomenon (Matthew effect) where popular products tend to become even more popular.[40]

Redistribution of wealth and public policy[edit]

In many societies, attempts have been made, through property redistribution, taxation, or regulation, to redistribute wealth, sometimes in support of the upper class, and sometimes to diminish economic inequality.

Examples of this practice go back at least to the Roman republic in the third century B.C.,[41] when laws were passed limiting the amount of wealth or land that could be owned by any one family. Motivations for such limitations on wealth include the desire for equality of opportunity, a fear that great wealth leads to political corruption, to the belief that limiting wealth will gain the political favor of a voting bloc, or fear that extreme concentration of wealth results in rebellion.[42] Various forms of socialism attempt to diminish the unequal distribution of wealth and thus the conflicts and social problems arising from it.[43]

During the Age of Reason, Francis Bacon wrote "Above all things good policy is to be used so that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered into a few hands… Money is like fertilizer, not good except it be spread."[44]

The rise of Communism as a political movement has partially been attributed to the distribution of wealth under capitalism in which a few lived in luxury while the masses lived in extreme poverty or deprivation. However, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx and Engels criticized German Social Democrats for placing emphasis on issues of distribution instead of on production and ownership of productive property.[45] While the ideas of Marx have nominally influenced various states in the 20th century, the Marxist notions of socialism and communism remains elusive.[46][vague]

On the other hand, the combination of labor movements, technology, and social liberalism has diminished extreme poverty in the developed world today, though extremes of wealth and poverty continue in the Third World.[47]

In the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014 from the World Economic Forum the widening income disparities come second as a worldwide risk.[48][49]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Davies, James B.; Sandström, Susanna; Shorrocks, Anthony F.; Wolff, Edward N. "Estimating the World Distribution of Household Wealth" (PDF). Institution/Country: University of Western Ontario, Canada; WIDER-UNU. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  2. ^ "Free exchange: The real wealth of nations". The Economist. June 30, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  3. ^ "Inclusive Wealth Report – IHDP". Ihdp.unu.edu. July 9, 2012. Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  4. ^ "Why it is hard to share the wealth". New Scientist. March 12, 2005. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Davies, J.B.; Shorrocks, A.F. (2000). "The distribution of wealth". Handbook of Income Distribution. 1: 605–675. doi:10.1016/S1574-0056(00)80014-7.
  6. ^ Modigliani, F.; Brumberg, R. (1954). "Utility analysis and the consumption function: an interpretation of cross-section data". Franco Modigliani. 1: 388–436.
  7. ^ Ando, A.; Modigliani, F. (1963). "The" life cycle" hypothesis of saving: Aggregate implications and tests". The American Economic Review. 53: 55–84.
  8. ^ "62 people own same as half world – Oxfam | Press releases | Oxfam GB". Oxfam.org.uk. January 18, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Yes, Oxfam, the Richest 1% Have Most of the Wealth. But That Means Less Than You Think". Time. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Global Wealth Report 2013". credit-suisse.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  11. ^ "The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency". Cia.gov. Archived from the original on July 16, 2017. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  12. ^ The World Distribution of Household Wealth. James B. Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff. December 5, 2006.
  13. ^ The rich really do own the world December 5, 2006
  14. ^ Kromkowski, "Who owns Baltimore", CSE/HGFA, 2007.
  15. ^ Source Credit Suisse, Research Institute – Global Wealth Databook 2021
  16. ^ a b Working Paper No. 589 Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze – an Update to 2007 by Edward N. Wolff, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, March 2010
  17. ^ a b Kertscher, Tom; Borowski, Greg (March 10, 2011). "The Truth-O-Meter Says: True – Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined". PolitiFact. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Moore, Michael (March 6, 2011). "America Is Not Broke". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Moore, Michael (March 7, 2011). "The Forbes 400 vs. Everybody Else". michaelmoore.com. Archived from the original on March 9, 2011. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  20. ^ a b Pepitone, Julianne (September 22, 2010). "Forbes 400: The super-rich get richer". CNN. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  21. ^ a b Bruenig, Matt (March 24, 2014). "You call this a meritocracy? How rich inheritance is poisoning the American economy". Salon. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  22. ^ a b Staff (March 18, 2014). "Inequality – Inherited wealth". The Economist. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  23. ^ a b Pizzigati, Sam (September 24, 2012). "The 'Self-Made' Hallucination of America's Rich". Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  24. ^ a b c d Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff of the UC-Santa Barbara Sociology Department
  25. ^ a b Occupy Wall Street And The Rhetoric of Equality Forbes November 1, 2011 by Deborah L. Jacobs
  26. ^ Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D., "Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time", Perspectives on Psychological Science, January 2011 6: 9-12
  27. ^ "The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That's Made the U.S. Less Secure". Time. September 14, 2020.
  28. ^ 1922–1989 data from Wolff (1996), 1992–2010 data from Wolff (2012)
  29. ^ "Trends in Family Wealth, 1989 to 2013". Congressional Budget Office. August 18, 2016.
  30. ^ Data for the following table obtained from UNU-WIDER World Distribution of Household Wealth Report (The University of California also hosts a copy of the report)
  31. ^ Financial world dominated by a few deep pockets. By Rachel Ehrenberg. September 24, 2011; Vol.180 #7 (p. 13). Science News. Citation is in the right sidebar. Paper is here [1] with PDF here [2].
  32. ^ Burdaa, Z.; et al. (January 22, 2001). "Wealth Condensation in Pareto Macro-Economies" (PDF). Physical Review E. 65 (2): 026102. arXiv:cond-mat/0101068. Bibcode:2002PhRvE..65b6102B. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.65.026102. PMID 11863582. S2CID 8822002. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  33. ^ Joseph E. Fargione et al.: Entrepreneurs, Chance, and the Deterministic Concentration of Wealth.
  34. ^ Simulation of wealth concentration according to Fargione, Lehman and Polasky
  35. ^ Rugaber, Christopher S.; Boak, Josh (January 27, 2014). "Wealth gap: A guide to what it is, why it matters". AP News. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  36. ^ Batra, Ravi (2007). The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-7579-9. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
  37. ^ Channer, Harold Hudson (July 25, 2011). "TV interview with Dr. Ravi Batra". Retrieved October 21, 2011.
  38. ^ Bessen, James (2015). Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. Yale University Press. pp. 226–27. ISBN 978-0300195668. The obstacles to restoring wage growth might have more to do with the broader dysfunction of our dollar- dominated political system than with the particular role of the extremely wealthy.
  39. ^ Bessen, James (2015). Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0300195668. However, concentrated wealth does not necessarily inhibit wage growth.
  40. ^ Altszyler, E; Berbeglia, F.; Berbeglia, G.; Van Hentenryck, P. (2017). "Transient dynamics in trial-offer markets with social influence: Trade-offs between appeal and quality". PLOS ONE. 12 (7): e0180040. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1280040A. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0180040. PMC 5528888. PMID 28746334.
  41. ^ Livy, Rome and Italy: Books VI-X of the History of Rome from its Foundation, Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-14-044388-6
  42. ^ "… A perceived sense of inequity is a common ingredient of rebellion in societies …", Amartya Sen, 1973
  43. ^ "The Spirit Level" by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett;Bloomsbury Press 2009
  44. ^ Francis Bacon, Of Seditions and Troubles
  45. ^ Critique of the Gotha Program, Karl Marx. Part I: "Quite apart from the analysis so far given, it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it."
  46. ^ Archie Brown, The Rise and Fall of Communism, Ecco, 2009, ISBN 978-0-06-113879-9
  47. ^ Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty, Penguin, 2006, ISBN 978-0-14-303658-6
  48. ^ "Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014 – Reports". Reports.weforum.org. World Economic Forum. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  49. ^ "178 Oxfam Briefing Paoer" (PDF). Oxfam.org. January 20, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2016.

External links[edit]

Wealth surveys[edit]

Many countries have national wealth surveys, for example:

Additional data, charts, and graphs[edit]