Media Briefings

Household Wealth: First Estimates For The Whole World

  • Published Date: March 2011

Research published in the March 2011 Economic Journal provides the first comprehensive
estimates of the level and distribution of global household wealth, including financial assets,
personal debts, land, buildings and other tangible property.
The study by James Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks and Edward
reveals the high degree of wealth inequality at the turn of the millennium, both
between and within countries – and considerably more unequal than the global distribution
of income.
The research also finds major cross-country differences in the composition of household
wealth. Real assets, particularly land and farm assets, are more important in less
developed countries, reflecting the greater importance of agriculture, the immaturity of
financial institutions and other factors such as inflation risk.
Striking differences are also evident in the types of financial assets owned. Savings
accounts feature strongly in transition economies and some rich Asian countries, due to a
preference for liquidity and a lack of confidence in financial markets. In contrast,
shareholdings are more prominent in countries like the UK and United States, which have
well-developed financial sectors and heavy reliance on private pensions.
The report’s figures for global household wealth are expressed in terms of the world adult
population and relate to the year 2000 and to US dollar values converted using purchasing
power parity (PPP) exchange rates. They show that:
 Mean global wealth was $44,000 in the year 2000 but the median value was much
lower at $8,635, reflecting the high degree of wealth inequality.
 Overall, the richest 1% of adults owned 32% of global assets and the richest 10%
accounted for 71%. In contrast, the bottom half of the wealth distribution held barely
3.7% of global wealth and the global Gini value, which measures inequality on a
scale from zero (total equality) to one (one individual owns everything), was 0.802.
 The high level of global wealth inequality is due to both very large inter-country
differences and very high wealth inequality within countries. The United States is the
richest country in aggregate terms, with wealth of $201,000 per adult in the year
2000. In contrast, wealth per adult in India was $12,000.
 The study finds wealth to be more unequally distributed than income across
countries. High-income countries tend to have a bigger share of world wealth than of
world income. The reverse is true of middle- and low-income nations.
 Wealth concentration within countries varies significantly but is generally high. The
share of the top 10% ranges from around 41% in China to 70% in the United States.
The Gini value gives numbers in the range from 0.35 to 0.45 for income inequality in
most countries but between 0.65 and 0.80 for wealth inequality.
 Net assets of $8,635 were sufficient to be in the top half of the world wealth
distribution in the year 2000, but $89,600 was required to be among the richest 10%
of adults and $518,000 was needed to belong to the top 1%.
 Almost all of the world’s richest individuals live in North America, Europe and rich
Asia-Pacific countries. Each of these groups of countries contribute about one third
of the members of the world’s wealthiest 10%.
 China occupies much of the middle third of the global wealth distribution, while
India, Africa and low-income Asian countries dominate the bottom third.
 On a country basis, one-quarter of the wealthiest 10% of adults are American and
another 20% are Japanese. These two countries feature even more strongly among
the richest 1% of individuals in the world, with 37% residing in the United States and
27% in Japan.
 China fails to feature strongly among the global top 1% in the year 2000 because
average wealth was modest and wealth evenly spread by international standards.
But Chinese membership of the 1% has risen fast in the subsequent years.
Notes for editors: ‘The Level and Distribution of Global Household Wealth’ by James
Davies, Susanna Sandström, Anthony Shorrocks and Edward Wolff by is published in the
March 2011 issue of the Economic Journal.
James Davies is at the University of Western Ontario. Susanna Sandström and Anthony
Shorrocks are at UNU-WIDER (United Nations University – World Institute for Development
Economics Research). Edward Wolff is at New York University.
For further information: contact Jim Davies (Canada) on +1-519-661-3529 (email:; Susanna Sandstrom (Italy) on +39-06-6513-3645 (email:; Anthony Shorrocks (UK) on +44-(0)207-266-1535 or +44-
(0)7981-666512 (email; Edward Wolff (United States) on +1-
212-998-8917 (email; or Romesh Vaitilingam on +44-7768-661095 (email: