U.S. Has The Most-Unequal Wealth Distribution of Any Major Country

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

Eric Zuesse

The most-reliable information-source regarding the distribution of wealth inside each country is the periodic nearly 200-page Credit Suisse “Global wealth databook,” which is produced by a large team and is therefore too costly to generate annually, but the latest freely available edition of it is their “Global wealth databook 2019”.

Wealth-data are far more private, and difficult to calculate with any reliability, than are income-data, because ownership is often hidden, especially at the upper levels of wealth. Consequently, even for a single country, the distribution of wealth is very costly to calculate. To do it with sufficient reliability so that the percentages can be compared between the world’s countries is next to impossible, but Credit Suisse’s team were able to calculate it for each of 30 countries, as regards the percentages of wealth that are owned by the richest 10%, and, also, for each of 27 countries as regards the percentages of wealth that are owned by the richest 1%.

In the following two lists, only the findings for the most-recent year that was able to be calculated with any reliability are being shown.

Slovakia had the most-equal distribution, with the top 10% owning 34.3% of the wealth, and the top 1% owning 9.3% of the wealth.

Uruguay, which was the only Latin American country on the list, had the most-unequal distribution, with the top 10% owning 77.1% of the wealth, and the top 1% owning 38.6%. (Wealth-distribution doesn’t necessarily correlate with income-distribution. For examples: In the latest U.N. Development Program calculation of Uruguay’s “Income Gini coefficient” — higher number means more unequal, and the average is around 35 — shows, for 2020, 45.3. That’s not extraordinarily unequal. Worst of all is Seychelles, at 65.8. U.S. is 40.8. China is 42.1. Russia is 40.1. Norway is 25.8. Germany is 28.3. Sweden is 25.0. Slovakia is 26.0. Haiti is 59.2. Guatemala is 55.9. Honduras is 57.0. Bolivia is 56.3. Brazil is 54.7. Chile is 52.1. Mexico is 47.2. South Africa is 63.1. Vietnam is 35.6. Venezuela is 44.8. Iran is 38.3. Syria is 35.8. Indonesia is 38.1. India is 33.9.)

Of course, one might expect Latin American countries — sometimes called “banana republics” — to have the largest percentage of the wealth owned by the fewest-percentage of the population. However, on its wealth-distribution, America, the United States, was the second-worst, very similar to Uruguay: it had the top 10% owning 75.0% of the wealth, and the top 1% owning 35.5%. The 3rd-worst country on the list was Netherlands, with the top 10% owning 68.3%, and the top 1% owning 27.8%. (Indonesia was slightly worse than Netherlands, on the top 1%, with 28.7%, but the top-1% data there were from 1998 and so might be quite different from the current reality; and, on Indonesia’s top-10% data, which were from 2014, Indonesia’s 36.4% was almost as equal as Slovakia’s 34.3%. So, Indonesia doesn’t score badly overall, but the latest-available wealth-data there are 23 years old and therefore not reliable as a reflection of current reality.) Sweden was among the most-unequal countries, 67.0% on the top-10%, and 24.0% on the top-1%, but all of those data were from 2007 (which also is fairly old; so, the 67% might also be reasonably questioned).

The most-equal major country on the list was Japan, which had 41.0% on the top-10%, and 10.8% on the top-1%.

Here are those data:

“Global wealth databook 2019”

“Table 1-5: Wealth shares for countries with wealth distribution data”

Wealth of Top 10%:

Austria 2017 = 56.4%

Belgium 2014 = 42.5%

Canada 2016 = 47.3%

Chile 2011 = 37.6%

China 2013 = 48.4%

Cyprus 2010 = 56.8%

Denmark 2015 = 64.0%

Estonia 2013 = 55.7%

Finland 2013 = 45.2%

Germany 2012 = 57.5%

Greece 2014 = 42.4%

Hungary 2014 = 48.5%

India 2012 = 62.1%

Indonesia 2014 = 36.4%

Ireland 2013 = 53.8%

Italy 2014 = 42.8%

Japan 2014 = 41.0%

Luxembourg 2014 = 48.7%

Malta 2010 = 46.9%

Netherlands 2015 = 68.3%

N.Z. 2014 = 52.9%

Norway 2014 = 51.5%

Poland 2014 = 41.8%

Portugal 2013 = 52.1%

Slovakia 2014 = 34.3%

Slovenia 2014 = 48.6%

Sweden 2007 = 67.0%

UK 2014 = 48.0%

U.S. 2016 = 75.0%

Uruguay 2013 = 77.1%

Wealth of Top 1%:

Austria 2017 = 22.6%

Belgium 2014 = 12.1%

Canada 2016 = 13.6%

Denmark 2015 = 23.6%

Estonia 2013 = 21.2%

Finland 2013 = 13.3%

France 2014 = 18.6%

Greece 2014 = 9.2%

Hungary 2014 = 17.2%

India 2012 = 25.7%

Indonesia 1997 = 28.7%

Ireland 2013 = 14.8%

Italy 2014 = 11.7%

Japan 2014 = 10.8%

Latvia 2014 = 21.4%

Luxembourg 2014 = 18.8%

Netherlands 2015 = 27.8%

Norway 2014 = 18.3%

Poland 2014 = 11.7%

Portugal 2013 = 14.4%

Slovakia 2014 = 9.3%

Slovenia 2014 = 23.0%

Spain 2014 = 20.2%

Sweden 2007 = 24.0%

UK 2008 = 12.5%

U.S. 2016 = 35.5%

Uruguay 2013 = 38.6%


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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Vera Gottlieb
Vera Gottlieb
May 29, 2021

Who would have guessed it, eh?

May 30, 2021

As Foucault explained, all categories are motivated. The category of ‘wealth distribution’ is a very motivated category intended to incite animosity among the poor toward the rich. But inciting animosity in the poor toward the rich does NOT help the poor. Rather it helps the ruling political class gain power, power which it uses to strip from the rich productively invested capital it can then squander in giveaway schemes to the poor. By taking capital OUT of productive investment, productive jobs are LOST. By flooding the poor with cash, prices are bid UP. Some of the poor have a temporary… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Victor
Sue Rarick
May 30, 2021

Golly gee – I guess Eric forgot the country was basically founded by rich guys and the Civil War was more about rich guys getting richer and of course reconstruction had nothing to do with bankrupting the South to finance the Industrial revolution and the robber barons.
Seriously, this isn’t new. If you want a socialist utopia where everything is equal and we all share to equality, overthrow a government and start your own. But, if there is nothing to be gained by working – why should we.

Last edited 3 months ago by Sue Rarick
Helga I. Fellay
Helga I. Fellay
Reply to  Sue Rarick
May 30, 2021

re: “the country was basically founded by rich guys” – I had no idea. Is this the reason there were huge waves of immigration of rich, but very hungry Irish after the Irish potato famine? All these old photos of immigrants getting off these ships surely gave no indication that these people were “rich guys” dressed like beggars.

Susan Rarick
Susan Rarick
Reply to  Helga I. Fellay
May 31, 2021

How about the Irish famine originally started as the English potato famine but they came over and took all the Irish potatoes hoping the Irish would starve. Also the fact that the Crown put a tax on people (Irish) and it was cheaper to pay a one way ticket to the USA than to pay the tax. BTW My grandmother was one of those second wave Irish immigrants and in Ireland it was illegal for an Irish catholic to speak English – A few decades later she got her PhD from NYU spoke 5 modern languages and 2 ancient languages… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Susan Rarick
Reply to  Susan Rarick
May 31, 2021

Civil War was tax revolt #2 with 1776 being the first

Sue Rarick
May 30, 2021

You want more equality? Get rid of government draconian regulations. Here is an example: Three of us were in the marine business for decades. We got our hands on a great legacy boat set of molds (the owner let us have them) They were in great shape (part of my work included making molds) The same owner was going to allow us to use a couple buildings in his old boatyard for a great price- The place had been used for boatbuilding for over 200 years. All sounds really good and there was a great deal of interest in resurrecting… Read more »

May 31, 2021

The US needs to learn a lesson but probably not the one it’s learning now.

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