Half the world''s wealth is in the hands of the richest 2 per cent news
05 December 2006

More than half of the global personal wealth, including property and financial assets, is in the hands of the world's richest two per cent, reveals the first research on global personal wealth ownership, released today.

So unevenly is wealth concentrated globally that the poorest half hold only 1 per cent of wealth, notes the study conducted by World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN University.

While global income is distributed unequally, the spread of wealth is even more skewed, says the report.

"Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and high income Asia-Pacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90 per cent of total world wealth," says the Helsinki-based institute.

According to the study, in 2000 to belong to the top 1 per cent of the world's wealthiest adults, just over $500,000, would suffice to join the ranks of the richest 37 million people in the world. The distribution of the richest one per cent, in statistical terms, reveals that "more than one in every two of those people lives in the United States or Japan."

North America has 6 per cent of the global adult population, but owns 34 per cent of global household wealth. Countries with high poulations al;so tend to have lower wealth ownership, says the study.

Ownership of net assets of $2,200 would put a household in the top half of the world wealth distribution. And those with just over those with more than $61,000 were in the global top 10 per cent.

That would imply that middle-income countries with high growth rates still have a long way to go before they have a hope of catching up with the prosperity of the richest.

If the entire global wealth were redistributed equally, every individual adult would own $20,500 worth of assets.

The report also reveals the changing pattern of wealth holding - as countries grow richer, people change their wealth holding pattern. For instance, in developing countries, property, particularly land and farm assets are common forms of wealth ownership, while cash savings tend to dominate in middle-income counties.

Only in a handful of countries such as the US and the UK with strong financial sectors is there a strong appetite for holding shares and other sophisticated financial assets.

Debt is also low in poor countries because financial institutions do not exist to allow people to borrow. Paradoxically, the report also reveals that many in high-income countries have negative net worth and, are among the world's poorest in in terms of household wealth ownership.

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Half the world''s wealth is in the hands of the richest 2 per cent