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The Geography of the World’s 50 Top Billionaires

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50 Top Billionaires by Geography

The Geography of the World’s 50 Top Billionaires

The business world has undergone considerable change in the last two decades.

While some fortunes are always reliably passed on to their respective heirs and heiresses, there are also entirely new industries that rise out of nowhere to shape the landscape of global wealth.

As the wealth landscape shifts, so does its geographical distribution.

The 2019 List of Billionaires

Today’s chart uses data from the most recent edition of the Forbes Billionaires List to map the distribution of the world’s richest people, and then compare that to data from 20 years prior.

We’ll start here by looking at the most recent data from 2019:

RankNameNet Worth ($B)CitizenshipIndustry
#1Jeff Bezos131๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech, eCommerce
#2Bill Gates96.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#3Warren Buffett82.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAInvestments
#4Bernard Arnault76๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceLuxury Goods, Cosmetics
#5Carlos Slim Helu64๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ MexicoTelecommunications
#6Amancio Ortega62.7๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ SpainApparel
#7Larry Ellison62.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#8Mark Zuckerberg62.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#9Michael Bloomberg55.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAMedia
#10Larry Page50.8๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#11Charles Koch50.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USADiversified
#12David Koch50.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USADiversified
#13Mukesh Ambani50๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ IndiaOil & Gas, Telecoms
#14Sergey Brin49.8๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#15Francoise Bettencourt49.3๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceCosmetics
#16Jim Walton44.6๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail
#17Alice Walton44.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail, Art
#18Rob Walton44.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USARetail
#19Steve Ballmer41.2๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#20Ma Huateng (Pony)38.8๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaTech
#21Jack Ma37.3๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaTech, eCommerce
#22Hui Ka Yan36.2๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#23Beate Heister & Karl Albrecht Jr.36.1๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyRetail
#24Sheldon Adelson35.1๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USACasinos
#25Michael Dell34.3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USATech
#26Phil Knight33.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAApparel
#27David Thomson32.5๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ CanadaMedia
#28Li Ka-shing31.7๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaDeveloper
#29Lee Shau Kee30.1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaDeveloper
#30Franรงois Pinault29.7๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท FranceLuxury Goods
#31Joseph Safra25.2๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท BrazilDiversified
#32Leonid Mikhelson24๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#33Jacqueline Mars23.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAFood
#34John Mars23.9๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAFood
#35Jorge Paulo Lemann22.8๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท BrazilDiversified
#36Azim Premji22.6๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ IndiaTech
#37Dieter Schwarz22.6๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyRetail
#38Wang Jianlin22.6๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#39Giovanni Ferrero22.4๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ItalyFood
#40Elon Musk22.4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAAutomotive, Tech
#41Tadashi Yanai22.2๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต JapanApparel
#42Yang Huiyan22.1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ ChinaReal Estate
#43Masayoshi Son21.6๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต JapanBanking, Investments
#44Jim Simons21.5๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USAInvestments
#45Vladimir Lisin21.3๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaSteel, Transportation
#46Susanne Klatten21๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช GermanyAutomotive, Pharma
#47Vagit Alekperov20.7๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#48Alexey Mordashov20.5๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaSteel, Investments
#49Gennady Timchenko20.1๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ RussiaOil & Gas
#50Leonardo Del Vecchio19.8๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ItalyEyewear

The most recent billionaires list features Jeff Bezos at the top with $131 billion, although it’s likely his recent divorce announcement will provide an upcoming shakeup to the Bezos Empire.

Bezos is just one of 21 Americans that find themselves in the top 50 list, which means that 42% of the world’s top billionaires hail from the United States.

Billionaire Geography Over Time

If we compare the top 50 list to that from 1999, it’s interesting to see what has changed over time in terms of geographical distribution.

Here’s the distribution of top countries on both lists, compared:

CitizenshipTop Billionaires (1999)Top Billionaires (2019)Change
๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia05+5
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China37+4
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States1821+3
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil02+2
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ India02+2
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy12+1
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain01+1
๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mexico110
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada110
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฒ Bermuda10-1
๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan32-1
๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France53-2
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia20-2
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan20-2
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden30-3
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญSwitzerland30-3
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany73-4

In the last 20 years, Russia and China have stockpiled the most top billionaires, adding five and four to the top 50 list respectively. The United States added three, going from 18 to 21 billionaires over the timeframe.

On the other end of the spectrum, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland have lost the most billionaires from the top 50 ranking.

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Chart of the Week

Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

How do the rankings of the world’s most affluent countries change when using different metrics to measure wealth per capita?

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Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

Our animated chart this week uses data from the ninth Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, which ranks countries by average wealth, calculated as gross assets per adult citizen.

While using such a metric certainly gives a quick snapshot of wealth per capita, it doesn’t necessarily show the complete picture.

Some argue, for example, that calculating the mean doesnโ€™t factor in the gap between the richest and poorest in a populationโ€”also known as wealth inequality. For this reason, we’ve compared this number to median wealth for each country, providing a separate angle on which countries really have the most wealth per capita.

Mean or Median: Which Makes More Sense?

Below, weโ€™ve visualized a hypothetical example of two groups of people, each earning various sums of money, to show how average (mean) and median calculations make a difference.

Mean vs Median Comparison

What can we observe in both datasets?

  • Total wealth: $2,000
  • Total people: 15 people
  • Average wealth: $2,000 รท 15 = $133

However, thatโ€™s where the similarities end. In the first group, wealth is distributed more evenly, with the disparity between the lowest-paid and highest-paid being $300. The median wealth for this group reaches $100, which is close to the average value. In the second group, this gap climbs to $495, and the median wealth drops sharply to only $30.

Scaling up this example to the true wealth of nations, we can see how the median wealth provides a more accurate picture of the typical adult, especially in societies that are less equal.

Letโ€™s see how this shakes out when ranking the world’s most affluent countries.

Ranking Top Contenders on Wealth per Capita

When it comes to wealth per capita, itโ€™s clear that Australia and Switzerland lead the pack. In fact, the data shows that both nations top the lists for both mean and median wealth.

However, both nations also have the highest absolute household debt-to-GDP ratios in the world: in 2018, Switzerlandโ€™s levels reached nearly 129%, while Australia followed behind at 120%.

Here is a full ranking of the top 20 countries by mean and median wealth:

RankCountryMean wealth per adultCountryMedian wealth per adult
#1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland$530,244๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia$191,453
#2๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia$411,060๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland$183,339
#3๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States$403,974๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium$163,429
#4๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium$313,045๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands$114,935
#5๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway$291,103๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France$106,827
#6๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand$289,798๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada$106,342
#7๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada$288,263๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan$103,861
#8๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark$286,712๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand$98,613
#9๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore$283,118๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง United Kingdom$97,169
#10๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France$280,580๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore$91,656
#11๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง United Kingdom$279,048๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain$87,188
#12๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands$253,205๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway$80,054
#13๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden$249,765๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy$79,239
#14๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Hong Kong$244,672๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan$78,177
#15๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช Ireland$232,952๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช Ireland$72,473
#16๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria$231,368๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria$70,074
#17๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan$227,235๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท South Korea$65,463
#18๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy$217,727๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States$61,667
#19๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany$214,893๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark$60,999
#20๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan$212,375๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Hong Kong$58,905

The United States boasts 41% of the worldโ€™s millionaires, but itโ€™s clear that the fruits of labor are enjoyed by only a select groupโ€”average wealth ($403,974) is almost seven times higher than median wealth ($61,667). This growing inequality gap knocks the country down to 18th place for median wealth.

The Nordic countries of Norway and Denmark can be found in the top ten for average wealth, but they drop to 12th place ($80,054) and 19th place ($60,999) respectively for median wealth. Despite this difference, these countries also provide a strong safety netโ€”including access to healthcare and educationโ€”to more vulnerable citizens.

Finally, wealth in Japan is fairly evenly distributed among its large middle class, which lands it in seventh place on the median wealth list at $103,861. One possible reason is that the pay gap ratio between Japanese CEOs and the average worker is much lower than other developed nations.

With reducing income inequality as a priority for many countries around the world, how might this list change in coming years?

Footnote: All data estimates are using mid-2018 values, and reflected in US$.

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Chart of the Week

Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

This map shows the 25 oldest democracies in the world, based on how long current democratic governments have been in continuous power.

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Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

Which country today is the world’s oldest democracy?

It’s a loaded question โ โ€” as you’ll see, there is plenty of nuance involved in the answer.

Depending on how you define things, there are many jurisdictions that can lay claim to this coveted title. Let’s dive into some of these technicalities, and then we can provide context for how we’ve defined democracy in today’s particular chart.

Laying the Claim

If you’re looking for the very first instance of democracy, credit is often attributed to Ancient Athens. It’s there the term originated, based on the Greek words demos (“common people”) and kratos (“strength”). In the 6th century BC, the city-state allowed all landowners to speak at the legislative assembly, blazing a path that would be followed by democracies in the future.

However, Ancient Athens wasn’t really a country in the modern sense. It’s also not around anymore, so that certainly disqualifies the oldest continuous democratic country today.

Iceland and the Isle of Man both have interesting claims to democracy. Each has a parliamentary body that is over 1,000 years old, making them the longest standing democratic institutions in the world. But Iceland only got its independence in 1944 from Denmark โ€” and while it is self-governing, the Isle of Man is not a country.

Of course, when we’re talking about democracy today, we’re really talking about universal suffrage. New Zealand may have the best claim here โ€” by 1893, the self-governing colony allowed all women and ethnicities to vote in elections.

A Common Set of Criteria

While many civilizations, institutions, and societies have a rightful claim to contributing to democracy (including many we did not mention above), measuring the world’s oldest democracies today requires following a common set of criteria.

In today’s chart, we used data from Boix, C., Miller, M., & Rosato, S. (2013, 2018), which looks at the age of democratic regimes for 219 countries since the year 1800. Countries are classified as democracies if they meet the following conditions:

  1. Executive:
    The executive is directly or indirectly elected in popular elections and is responsible either directly to voters or to a legislature.
  2. Legislature:
    The legislature (or the executive if elected directly) is chosen in free and fair elections.
  3. Voting:
    A majority of adult men has the right to vote.
  4. Democracies also have to be continuous in order to count. Although France has important democratic origins, the country is currently on its fifth republic since the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon, Vichy France, and other instances where things went sideways.

    While the above criteria isn’t perfect, it does create a stable playing field to assess when countries adopted democratic systems in principle. (However, the exclusion of certain populations, notably women and specific ethnicities, in being given the right to vote, or to be elected to legislative assemblies, is another story).

    The Oldest Democracies, by Number of Years

    Using the above criteria, here is a list of the world’s 25 oldest democracies:

    RankCountryAge of Democracy (Years)
    #1๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States219*
    #2๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland171
    #3๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand162
    #4๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada152
    #5๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง United Kingdom134
    #6๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡บ Luxembourg129
    #7๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium125
    #8๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands122
    #9๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway119
    #10๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia118
    #11๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark118
    #12๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden108
    #13๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Finland102
    #14๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ Iceland101
    #15๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช Ireland97
    #16๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฒ San Marino74
    #17๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria73
    #18๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France73
    #19๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy73
    #20๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Israel71
    #21๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ท Costa Rica70
    #22๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ India69
    #23๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan67
    #24๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ด Colombia61
    #25๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ฒ Jamaica57

    * The data goes back to 1800, so U.S. democracy can be considered at least 219 years old.

    Using this specific criteria, there is only one country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years (The United States), and fourteen countries with democracies older than a century.

    As you’ll notice in the data, many countries became democracies after World War II. The Japanese Empire, for example, was occupied by Allied Forces and then dissolved. It then regained sovereignty afterwards, emerging as a newly democratic regime.

    Final notes: The data here goes back to 1800, and we have adjusted it to be current as of 2019. One change we made was to Tunisia, which is listed as the 24th oldest democracy in the data. Based on our due diligence on the subject, we felt it was appropriate to leave it off the list, given that most experts see the country as only achieving the status in 2014 in the post-Arab Spring era.

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