connecting the dots on a growing divide

World / Global Inequality

Download Chart Pack

Global inequality refers to the extent to which income and wealth is distributed in an uneven manner among the world’s population.

Tracking levels of world inequality poses a variety of statistical challenges for researchers. Different nations, for starters, tally income and wealth in different ways, and some nations barely tally reliable stats at all. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of good sources of summary data on global inequality.

Luxembourg Income Study

Scholars connected with the Luxembourg Income Study have created a cross-national data archive, for both income and wealth, that seeks to address the challenges of collecting comparable data on world inequality. But this project remains more a basic resource for researchers than a source of information for the general public.

The World Top Incomes Database

This initiative from the Paris School of Economics and three partner groups offers scholars and the general public alike a Web window into the incomes of the globe’s most affluent. Visitors to the site can graphically compare, over time, the income shares of the wealthy in 23 different nations. And the comparisons enabled can drill all the way to a nation’s most affluent 0.01 percent.

United Nations

In 2006, a team of scholars with the United Nations University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research published the first paper to tally, for the entire world, all the major elements of household wealth, everything from financial assets and debts to land, homes, and other tangible property.

This research, based on year 2000 data, found that the richest 1 percent of the world’s adult population, individuals worth at least $514,512, owned 39.9 percent of the world’s household wealth, a total greater than the wealth of the world’s poorest 95 percent, those adults worth under $150,145 who hold, together, just 29.4 percent of the world’s wealth.

Financial Institutions

In more recent years, several global financial institutions have been releasing their own annual calculations on worldwide wealth concentration. Among these efforts: the World Wealth Report from Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, the Global Wealth report from the Boston Consulting Group, the Global Wealth Report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute in Zurich, and the World Ultra Wealth Report from the Singapore-based Wealth-X. Taking a longer range perspective: The Next Decade in Global Wealth Among Millionaire Households, an analysis from Deloitte LLP.

Credit Suisse numbers released in October 2010 show that the richest 0.5 percent of global adults hold well over a third of the world’s wealth.

Source: Credit Suisse Research Institute, Global Wealth Report, October 2010.

Forbes Magazine

The best estimates for wealth’s concentration at the global economic summit come from Forbes magazine. Forbes annually tallies the fortunes of the world’s billionaires. The world’s 1,210 current billionaires, Forbes reported in March 2011, hold a combined wealth that equals over half the total wealth of the 3.01 billion adults around the world who, according to Credit Suisse, hold under $10,000 in net worth.

Sources: “The World’s Billionaires,” Forbes Magazine, March 9, 2011 and Credit Suisse Research Institute, Global Wealth Report, October 2010.