Regional patterns of global wealth
The distinctive regional pattern of wealth ownership may be seen by comparing the share of household wealth of each region with its share of the adult population. North America is the region with the highest average wealth. It is also the region with the largest share of total wealth (34.7%), although Europe’s greater population means that its wealth share (32.4%) is only slightly lower (see Figure 1). The 18.9% share of wealth held in Asia-Pacific countries (excluding China and India) is not far from the population share of the region (23.7%). Elsewhere, the disparity between population and wealth becomes increasingly apparent. Despite making enormous strides in recent years, China accounts for 21.4% of the adult population of the world, yet only 8.1% of global wealth. The ratio is similar for Latin America: 8.4% to 3.5%. But for Africa and India, the population share exceeds the wealth share by a multiple of more than ten.
Regional composition of global wealth distribution 2014
Assigning individuals to their corresponding global wealth decile (i.e. population tenth) enables the regional pattern of wealth to be portrayed, as in Figure 8 (see graph). The most prominent feature is the contrast between China and India. China has very few representatives at the bottom of the global wealth distribution, and relatively few at the top, but dominates the upper middle section, accounting for 40% of the worldwide membership of deciles 6–8.
The sizeable presence of China in the upper middle section reflects not only its population size and growing average wealth, but also wealth inequality which, despite recent increases, is not high by the standards of the developing world. China’s position in the global picture has shifted towards the right in the past decade due to its strong record of growth, rising asset values and currency appreciation.
China now has more people in the top 10% of global wealth holders than any other country except for the USA and Japan, having moved into third place in the rankings by overtaking France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. In contrast, residents of India are heavily concentrated in the lower wealth strata, accounting for over a quarter of people in the bottom half of the distribution. However, its extreme wealth inequality and immense population mean that India also has a significant number of members in the top wealth echelons.
As Figure 8 shows, residents of Latin America are fairly evenly spread across the global wealth spectrum. The Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) mimics the global pattern more closely still. However, the apparent uniformity of the Asia-Pacific region masks a substantial degree of polarization. Residents of high-income Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, are heavily concentrated at the top end: half of all adults in high-income Asian countries are in the top global wealth decile. In contrast, inhabitants of lower-income countries in Asia, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam, tend to be found lower down in the wealth distribution. In fact, when high-income countries are excluded from the Asia-Pacific group, the wealth pattern within the remaining countries resembles that of India, with both regional groupings contributing about one quarter of the bottom half of wealth holders.
Africa is even more concentrated in the bottom end of the wealth spectrum: half of all African adults are found in the bottom two global wealth deciles. At the same time, wealth inequality within and across countries in Africa is so high that some individuals are found among the top global wealth decile, and even among the top percentile. In sharp contrast, North America and Europe are heavily skewed toward the top tail, together accounting for 64% of adults in the top 10%, and an even higher percentage of the top percentile. Europe alone accounts for 38% of members of the top wealth decile, a proportion that has risen considerably over the past decade alongside the euro appreciation against the US dollar.