Richest Two Percent Own More than Half World’s Wealth

The richest two percent of the world’s population controls more than half the world’s wealth, according to a study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the U.N. University.

Two percent of adults have more than half of the world’s wealth, including property and financial assets, according to a study by the U.N. development research institute published on Tuesday.


The Helsinki-based institute said its study was the first global research on the topic, for which there is only limited data. “We’ve estimated that the richest 2 percent of adults own more than half of global wealth, while the bottom half own 1 percent,” said institute director Anthony Shorrocks.

By their own admission, the group is having to make educated guesses and assumptions, since the data to do this study really does not exist. Still, considering what we know about the nature of wealth distribution in developing societies, where the ruling elites typically control virtually all resources, and that there is a heavy skew even in advanced societies where we have good economic data, the findings are quite plausible.

Even more so when you see this:

According to the study, in 2000 a couple needed capital of $1 million to be among the top 1 percent on the wealth list — the richest 37 million people in the world. More than one in every two of those people lives in the United States or Japan. And it found that net assets of $2,200 per adult would put a household in the top half of the world wealth distribution.

So, virtually every American who is not currently homeless is above the median and the vast majority of the middle class are likely in the top two to three percent. The most interesting result here is not that a handful of people are incredibly rich but that the vast majority of the world’s people are incredibly poor.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. madmatt says:

    Just because people are “rich” by measuring their wealth against bushmen, pygmies and slave laborers around the world doesn’t necessarily mean they are “rich” in an economy such as ours with grossly inflated costs of living.

  2. LJD says:

    Typical. you have a computer to prattle away on and are (presumably) not starving. The poorest in our country are far, far better than many other places.

  3. Christopher says:

    Let’s hear it for America!

    OMG just think how much richer our country could be if it weren’t for liberals!

    Just think how much richer the entire world could be if we had more capitalistic democracies!

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Hmm. Wealth. Tough to make heads or tails of that. Somebody who owns a square block in midtown Manhattan is probably a billionaire solely by virtue of that ownership. Somebody who owns an identically-sized area in downtown San Pedro, Paraguay is probably not nearly so wealthy.

    I think it’s important not to harden our hearts and tounderstand that there are, indeed, a lot of poor people in the world who could use some attention. Statistics like this trivialize this.

  5. madmatt says:

    Hey ljd…it is comments like that which make people around the world hate americans…not starving what a threshold of “wealth”.

    I can look beyond my own self interest, obviously you need to feel better about yourself at the expense of the less fortunate.

    And christopher…we are a country that wallows in debt thanks to a “conservative” exec and legislative branches so why don’t you scrounge up a fact or two…here is one for you, the economy historically does better under “Liberals”…look it up!

  6. LJD says:

    No, what makes people hate us is being very, very fortunate in terms of quality of life, yet complaining that we’re not ‘getting’ enough. it is a sad, sad component of the nanny state mentality that you seem unable to look beyond.

    My self interest extends beyond those living in this country. Maybe that explains why it is so easy for ‘you guys’ to cut and run.

  7. madmatt says:

    The people who seem to complain about “not getting enough” tend to be the fundamentalists and corporatists who feel that until they have all the power nothing is fair….you know them they have been your parties spokespeople for 12 years.

    I also didn’t realize you were such a humanitarian…so where was the “compassion” for the iraqis who had done nothing to the US? Tell me about banning discussion of condoms in foreign countries as a pre-req for aid. Tell me about lack of respect and recognition for democratically elected govts like venezuala, lebanon, nicaragua…despite the US being pro-democracy

  8. Christopher says:

    madmatt, why don’ you do us all a favor and move to Canada? I mean heck it is so bad here, and we are all such jerks-just move for gawds sakes! They would love to have ya.

  9. Dennis Sheehan says:

    Why don’t people realize that we cannot do ANYTHING about the poor of the world until their own governments give a damn about them. I’m tired of giving and having the money go to cronies of rulers. Until these other countries get a capitalist system that rewards hard work and ability, their people will breed the NEXT generation of the world’s poor. All that does is give work to that idiot Jimmy Carter.