Why The World Is Wealthier Than Ever, And The Ultra-Rich Richer

Becoming a millionaire is almost always more complicated than winning a game show or the lottery. Some people come into their money with inheritance as a booster; others are strategic in their gains or simply get lucky.

At least one thing’s for certain: the amount of millionaires is in the world is growing steadily, as is overall wealth.

New millionaires

In 2014, there were almost a million newly minted millionaires – 920,000, by some estimations. That puts the total number of people with a million or more in assets at 14.6 million globally. These people are called High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs).

These wealthy folks control about 56 percent of the world’s wealth, according to the World Wealth Report (WWR) by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management.

According to the WWR:

  • New millionaires are popping up at the highest rate in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific region, boosted by the inclusion of China, is expanding its population of high net worth individuals at the highest rate (11 percent). This region is home to the most millionaires – 4.69 million, to be exact, according to the WWR.

  • North America, and America in particular, holds the title for total value of wealth by HNWIs.

North America’s millionaires and billionaires, only slightly behind the Asia-Pacific region with 4.68 million in number, collectively hold a value of $16.2 trillion. With a growth rate of 9 percent, though, the Asia Pacific region is expected to surpass North America by the end of 2015.

Growing wealth is due largely to strong economic and equity market growth. But though an elite few are entering the millionaire club as newbies, those part of the club have gains even greater.

Wealth beyond millions

Here’s the good news first: If you have $3,650 more more in assets, you are among the wealthiest half of world citizens. That’s according to Credit Suisse report, which found that as wealth increases, so does wealth inequality globally — though of G7 countries, only markedly so in the UK.

Between 2013 and 1014, global wealth grew faster than it had since 2000. In the U.S., the $12.3 trillion lost during the financial crisis was regained in 2014.

But here’s the not so great news: sure, wealth is growing, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see much of it. Even mere millionaires aren’t seeing huge gains; it’s the multi-millionaires and billionaires that are benefiting the greatest post-recession.

For example, in 1980 the ultra-rich (those with a net worth of over $100 million) owned about 4 percent of the United States’ wealth; by 2012, that jumped to 11 percent. The super rich ($20 – $100 million) saw their wealth double, and the $4 – 20 million crowd experienced a slight uptick. The other 99 percent of households, though, saw a relative decline.

The trend has it that those with most money benefit the greatest from wealth’s expansion (and there are many theories why). The ultra-rich can expect their wealth to grow 9 percent between 2012 and 2017; households with $100,000 or less will grow by 3.7 percent.

Some analysts say this type of wealth gap is normal, as periods of less extreme inequality (such as the mid-20th century) might have been anomalies. They argue that recent wealth growth, even if top heavy, has done a lot of global good.

Those one the less-green side of the lawn, however, wonder what good adding trillions of dollars in wealth to the world really is, if it’s mostly going to those with millions to spare.

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Jennifer Markert