Visualizing Global Income Distribution Over 200 Years
Has the world become more unequal?
With COVID-19 disrupting societies and lower-income countries in particular, social and economic progress made over the last decade is in danger of being reversed. And with rising living costs and inflation across much of the world, experts warn that global income inequality has been exacerbated.
But the good news is that absolute incomes across many poorer countries have significantly risen over the last century of time. And though work remains, poverty levels have fallen dramatically in spite of stark inequality.
To analyze historical trends in global income distribution, this infographic from Our World in Data looks at three periods over the last two centuries. It uses economic data from 1800, 1975, and 2015 compiled by Hans and Ola Rosling.
For global income estimates, data was gathered by country across three key variables:
- GDP per capita
- Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality by statistical distribution
Daily incomes were measured in a hypothetical “international-$” currency, equal to what a U.S. dollar would buy in America in 2011, to allow for comparable incomes across time periods and countries.
Historical Patterns in Global Income Distribution
In 1800, over 80% of the world lived in what we consider extreme poverty today.
At the time, only a small number of countries—predominantly Western European countries, Australia, Canada and the U.S.—saw meaningful economic growth. In fact, research suggests that between 1 CE and 1800 CE the majority of places around the world saw miniscule economic growth (only 0.04% annually).
By 1975, global income distribution became bimodal. Most citizens in developing countries lived below the poverty line, while most in developed countries lived above it, with incomes nearly 10 times higher on average. Post-WWII growth was unusually rapid across developed countries.
Fast forward just 40 years to 2015 and world income distribution changed again. As incomes rose faster in poorer countries than developed ones, many people were lifted out of poverty. Between 1975 and 2015, poverty declined faster than at any other time. Still, steep inequality persisted.
A Tale of Different Economic Outputs
Even as global income distribution has started to even out, economic output has trended in the opposite direction.
As the above interactive chart shows, GDP per capita was much more equal across regions in the 19th century, when it sat around $1,100 per capita on a global basis. Despite many people living below the poverty line during these times, the world also had less wealth to go around.
Today, the global average GDP per capita sits at close to $15,212 or about 14 times higher, but it is not as equally distributed.
At the highest end of the spectrum are Western and European countries. Strong economic growth, greater industrial output, and sufficient legal institutions have helped underpin higher GDP per capita numbers. Meanwhile, countries with the lowest average incomes have not seen the same levels of growth.
This highlights that poverty, and economic prosperity, is heavily influenced by where one lives.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Mapped: The Migration of the World’s Millionaires in 2023
Where do the world’s wealthiest people want to live? This map tracks the migration of the world’s High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs).
Mapping the Migration of the World’s Millionaires 2023
Just like everyone else, High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) traveled less than usual during the pandemic, and as a result their migration numbers trended downwards. But millionaires and billionaires are on the move again and it is anticipated that 122,000 HNWIs will move to a new country by the end of the year.
Henley & Partners’ Private Wealth Migration Report has tracked the countries HNWIs have moved from and to over the last 10 years; this map showcases the 2023 forecasts.
In this context, HNWIs are defined as individuals with a net worth of at least $1 million USD.
The Countries Welcoming New Millionaires
The top 10 countries which are likely to become home to the highest number of millionaires and billionaires in 2023 are scattered across the globe, with Australia reclaiming its top spot this year from the UAE.
Here’s a closer look at the data:
|Rank||Country||Projected HNWI Inflow 2023|
|10||🇳🇿 New Zealand||700|
Only two Asian countries make the top 10, with the rest spread across Europe, North America, and Oceania.
Despite historic economic challenges, Greece is projected to gain 1,200 High Net Worth Individuals this year. One reason could be the country’s golden visa program, wherein wealthy individuals can easily obtain residence and eventually EU passports for the right price—currently a minimum real estate investment cost of 250,000 euros is all that’s required.
Many of the leading millionaire destinations are attractive for wealthy individuals because of higher levels of economic freedom, allowing for laxer tax burdens or ease of investment. Singapore, which expects to gain 3,200 millionaires, is the most economically free market in the world.
The Countries Losing the Most Millionaires
China is anticipated to lose 13,500 High Net Worth Individuals this year, more than double as many as the second place country, India (6,500).
Here’s a closer look at the bottom 10:
|Rank||Country||Projected HNWI Outflow 2023|
|6||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||-1,000|
|7||🇰🇷 South Korea||-800|
|9||🇿🇦 South Africa||-500|
In a number of these countries, strict regulatory bodies and corrupt governments can hinder the ease with which HNWIs can manage their own money.
In Russia, many wealthy individuals are facing personal tariffs and trade restrictions from Western countries due to the war in Ukraine. China’s crackdowns on Hong Kong have made it a less attractive place for business. And finally, the UK’s exit from the EU has caused many businesses and individuals to lose the easy movement of labor, finances, and investment that made operations across European borders seamless.
Some of these countries may still be adding homegrown millionaires and billionaires, but losing thousands of HNWIs to net migration does have a considerable economic impact.
Overall, millionaires are increasingly on the move. In the 10 years of reporting—despite a dip during the pandemic—the number of HNWIs moving away from their countries of origin has been growing every year.
Here’s a look at the numbers:
|Year||Projected HNWI Migration|
In a geopolitically fragile but more connected world, it’s no surprise to see millionaires voting with their feet. As a result, governments are increasingly in competition to win the hearts and minds of the world’s economic elite to their side.
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