The richest control even more of the world’s wealth

The continuing concentration of wealth recently has caused even President Bush to lecture the New York Stock Exchange about the dangers of income inequality. In the United States back in the 1960s, the top 1% of households had a net worth that was 125 times greater than the average household net worth. Today, the net worth of wealthy households is 190 times greater than the average.

A recent United Nations study of world wealth showed that this phenomenon is global. It found that the richest 2% of the world’s population own over half of the wealth. Even more surprising are the levels at which a person is considered among the world’s wealthiest. The U.N. study said that someone with $2,200 in assets is in the top half of the wealth spectrum. Having $61,000 in assets places you in the top 10%, and having more than $500,000 places you in the top 1% of wealth. The U.N. study concluded that 37 million people place in that top 1%.

Average wealth in the United States was $144,000 per person. Japan had the highest figure, at $181,000 per person, while rapidly developing India stood at $1,100 in assets per person. A third of total adult wealth was held in North America, another third in Europe, and 24% in the rich Asian and Pacific countries. Only 1% of the world’s wealth was held in Africa.

The study found that one-half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. Meanwhile, the three richest people in the world—Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, investor Warren Buffett, and Mexican telecommunications company owner Carlos Slim Helu—have more money than the poorest 48 nations combined.

The study also found different patterns for holding wealth: in less developed countries land and farm assets are most important, while stocks and investments dominate in the West. Rich Asian nations were distrustful of stocks and favored liquid savings.