The ranks of global “ultra high net worth” (UHNW) individuals grew by 46,000 to a record 218,200 last year as the world’s richest people benefited from “near explosion of wealth” during the pandemic recovery.
The number of UHNW people — those with assets over $50 million (£43.7 million) — rose in 2021 as the super-wealthy took advantage of rising house prices and booming stock markets, according to a report by investment bank Credit Suisse. The number of people in the UHNW bracket has increased by more than 50% in the past two years.
The massive increase in wealth for the richest 0.00004 percent of the world’s adult population comes as billions of low- and middle-income people — many of whom saw their savings wiped out during the pandemic — struggle to cope with rising food and energy prices.
“The surge in financial assets resulted in an increase in inequality in 2021,” according to the report from Credit Suisse, which helps manage the fate of many of the world’s richest people. “The increase in inequality is likely due to the rise in the value of financial assets during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report found that “the recovery of macroeconomic activity in a low-interest environment has created exceptionally favorable conditions for household wealth growth in 2021”.
“We estimate that global wealth totaled $463.6 trillion at the end of 2021, an increase of $41.4 trillion (9.8%),” the report said. “Wealth per adult grew $6,800 (8.4%) over the year to $87,489, nearly three times the level recorded at the turn of the century.”
Anthony Shorrocks, an economics professor and author of the report, said last year had “nearly been an explosion of wealth … Probably higher than any other year we have ever recorded”.
Prosperity growth is not evenly distributed. The richest 1% of the world’s population increased their share of all the world’s wealth to 46% for the second year in a row, up from 44% in 2020.
The number of US dollar millionaires rose by 5.2 million in 2021 to a total of 62.5 million – just below the UK’s 67 million residents. Shorrocks said the number of millionaires grew so large that it became “an increasingly irrelevant measure of wealth.”
More than a third of millionaires live in the US, which is home to 24.5 millionaires, or 39% of the world’s total.
The number of American millionaires increased by 2.5 million – almost half of all new millionaires minted around the world. “This is the largest single-year rise in millionaires recorded for any country in any country this century and reinforces the rapid rise in the number of millionaires in the US since 2016,” the report said.
China ranks second, with 10% of the world’s millionaires, ahead of Japan with 5.4%, the UK (4.6%) and France (4.5%).
Switzerland was again named the richest country in terms of average average wealth per adult at $700,000, ahead of the US at $579,000.
However, the inequalities in those countries come to the fore when looking at the median average net worth per adult. Switzerland drops to sixth place with a median net worth of $168,000 and the US drops to 18th place with $93,000. Australia tops the median wealth table with $274,000.
British adults have an average net worth of $309,000 (14th place) and a median net worth of $142,000 (ninth place).
The country with the biggest jump in median average wealth was New Zealand, which saw an average increase from $114,000 to $472,000.