November 8, 2014

With 41% of global wealth in the hands of less than 1%, elites and citizens agree inequality is a top priority

41% of world's wealth in hands of 1% of population

Over the last few years, inequality has become an increasingly important topic in global debates about economics and politics. The Occupy Movement helped put it on the agenda, Thomas Piketty’s best-selling tome renewed intellectual interest in the subject and around the world average citizens say it should be a major priority.

Statistics on the gap between rich and poor around the world are stunning. Crédit Suisse says people with a net worth of more than $1 million represent just 0.7% of the global population, but they have 41% of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile, those with a net worth of less than $10,000 represent 69% of the population, but just 3% of global wealth.

A new report released by the World Economic Forum, ranks rising inequality as the top trend facing the globe in 2015, according to a survey of 1,767 global leaders from business, academia, government and non-profits, many of whom are gathering this weekend in Dubai.

In many ways, inequality is not just a financial issue. As United Nations official Amina Mohammed notes in an essay, inequality is a major problem, in part, because it is linked to so many other challenges, such as “poverty, environmental degradation, persistent unemployment, political instability, violence and conflict.”

people in US, Europe, Africa, Asia see inequality as problemA recent Pew Research Center survey highlights the extent to which people across the globe agree that inequality is a serious challenge. In all 44 nations that we polled, majorities say inequality is a big problem facing their country, and majorities in 28 nations consider it a very big problem. Concerns about inequality are widespread in nations that were deeply affected by the Great Recession. For instance, more than seven-in-ten in Greece (84%), Spain (74%) and Italy (73%) say the gap between rich and poor is a very big problem. However, even in emerging and developing nations that have experienced economic growth in recent years, there is a consensus that those at the top are reaping the financial benefits of growth, while others are being left behind.

Who or what is to blame for inequality? People in our survey identify many culprits, but the top offender is government. Across the 44 nations polled, a median of 29% say their government’s economic policies are the most important reason for the wealth gap; 23% blame the amount of workers’ wages, while somewhat fewer blame the educational system, the fact that some work harder than others, international trade or the tax system.

Widespread concerns about inequality, however, are not leading people to reject capitalism. Majorities or pluralities in 38 of the 44 countries we surveyed say that most people are better off in a free market system, even if some people are rich while others are poor. Still, as the Pew Research and World Economic Forum surveys make clear, both average citizens and elites are not entirely satisfied with the current economic status quo, and in particular with the degree to which everyone in society is able to enjoy prosperity.

Topics: Economic Policy, World Economies, Income Inequality

  1. Photo of Richard Wike

    is director of global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.


  1. John Plodinec3 years ago

    Income inequality is not a problem in itself. The real problem is when the poor are locked into poverty. This is a matter of having at least some resources (financial and intellectual) and the connections to pull oneself upward. In the US, almost all of the poor can still move out of poverty. The danger for us is that since the Great Recession that movement has decreased.

    1. Nick3 years ago

      Does a CEO really deserve multi million dollar salaries when his employees make minimum wage? Income inequality is a problem

    2. Rae3 years ago

      It’s actually a lot more difficult in the states. I learned in college that there is only a 6% chance of changing social classes, but I can’t find a resource to back up that claim. However here is an article that discusses it.…

      Majority of those who are impoverished can’t move out of poverty in the US. Impoverished neighborhoods have less access to resources- quality education, food, reliable transportation, affordable healthcare etc- and are never given the same opportunities as those growing up in middle class sub burbs. Their parents and grandparents grew up in poverty with a low amount of education and the kids don’t have much hope of moving up when they aren’t getting the quality education they deserve and knowledge of how to move out of poverty.

      Its a myth that its easy to move out of poverty. One’s chances of changing a social class or getting out of poverty is extremely difficult. Especially in the US.

    3. Marcos3 years ago

      But inflation leads to even more poverty and, therefore, more people locked into it.

    4. Richard Dane3 years ago

      Oh so its not a problem John!!!! I love it how people such as yourself make such blind assertions. It is a massive problem and no the poor in the usa have very little they can do to escape poverty in a system that is so rigged. The Political system is rigged, the taxation system, the monetary system, the trade system….all are rigged. Inequality and deprivation are the biggest causes of crime…do some research. If you want an example of what works then go to Scandinavia where there is far less inequality.

    5. cassie3 years ago

      whoever says .7% with 41% of the income is not a problem needs to reevaluate

    6. rudi3 years ago

      Income inequality is a symptom of the way our banking system is wired, and it is a horrific state of affairs. it is not a case of people working less than before, its that real work is paid less and speculation is rewarded.