The ranks of global “ultra high net worth” (UHNW) individuals rose by 46,000 last year to a record 218,200 as the world’s richest people benefited from “almost an explosion of wealth” during the recovery from the pandemic.
The number of UHNWs – those with assets above $50m (£43.7m) – rose in 2021 as the super-rich benefited from soaring 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 last two years.
The huge increase in wealth for the richest 0.00004% 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 skyrocketing food and energy prices.
“The strong increase in financial assets resulted in an increase in inequality in 2021,” said the report by Credit Suisse, which helps manage the fortunes of many of the world’s richest people. “The increase in inequality is likely due to the increase 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 rate environment provided exceptionally favorable conditions for household wealth growth during 2021”.
“We estimate that global wealth reached $463.6 billion by the end of 2021, an increase of $41.4 billion (9.8%),” the report said. “Wealth per adult grew by $6,800 (8.4%) over the year to reach $87,489, close to three times the level recorded at the turn of the century.”
Anthony Shorrocks, an economics professor and author of the report, said there had been “almost an explosion of wealth last year … Probably higher than any other year we’ve ever recorded”.
The increase in wealth has not been fairly distributed. The richest 1% of the world’s population increased their share of all the world’s wealth for the second consecutive year to 46%, up from 44% in 2020.
The number of US dollar millionaires increased by 5.2 million during 2021 to a total of 62.5 million – just under the 67 million population of Great Britain. 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 United States, which is home to 24.5 million millionaires, or 39% of the world total.
The number of American millionaires increased by 2.5 million – almost half of all new millionaires minted worldwide. “This is the largest increase in millionaires recorded for any country in any year this century and reinforces the rapid increase in millionaires seen in the United States since 2016,” the report said.
China is second, with 10% of the world’s millionaires, ahead of Japan with 5.4%, the UK (4.6%) and France (4.5%).
Switzerland was once again named the richest country in terms of average wealth per adult at $700,000, ahead of the United States at $579,000.
However, the differences in these countries are highlighted when the median average wealth per adult is examined. Switzerland falls to sixth place with a median wealth of $168,000 and the United States falls to 18th place with $93,000. Australia tops the median wealth table with $274,000.
UK adults have an average wealth of $309,000 (14th) and a median wealth of $142,000 (ninth).
The country with the biggest jump in average wealth was New Zealand, which saw an average increase of $114,000 to $472,000.