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Friday, October 17, 2014

U.S. Median Wealth Up from 27th to 25th

Today Credit Suisse released its Global Wealth Databook 2014 to go along with the Global Wealth Report issued Monday. Global wealth hit another new record of $263 trillion as of mid-2014, up 8.3% from mid-2013 (Report, p. 3). Rich people are doing well, but how about the middle class? One measure of this is median wealth per adult, the exact midpoint of the wealth distribution.

In the United States, mean wealth per adult reached $347,845, and median wealth per adult hit $53,352 (Databook, Table 2-4). This represents an increase in median wealth of 18.8% over 2013, enough to move the U.S. up two places to 25th in the world.

Before we congratulate ourselves too much, we need to remember that $53,352 is not all that much money, especially for retirement (don't forget that figure includes home equity). With 49% of Americans in the private sector having no retirement plan at all, and only 20% having a defined-benefit pension, a retirement crisis is looming for younger baby boomers and all later middle-class retirees. Meanwhile, if Republicans take control of the Senate in this year's elections, we are likely to hear increasing demands for cuts to Social Security, when what we actually need is to raise Social Security benefits.

The relatively low median wealth also points to persistent inequality in the United States. While only 25th in median wealth per adult, the U.S. ranks 5th in mean wealth per adult. With a ratio between mean and median wealth per adult of 6.5:1, this is higher than any of the other top 25 countries. Number one Australia has a ratio of less than 2:1. Without further ado, here is the list of all countries with median wealth per adult above $50,000.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

Median wealth per adult, mid-2014

1. Australia                  225,337
2. Belgium                   172,947
3. Iceland                    164,193
4. Luxembourg            156,267
5. Italy                         142,296
6. France                     140,638
7. United Kingdom     130,590
8. Japan                       112,998
9. Singapore                109.250
10. Switzerland           106,887
11. Canada                    98,756
12. Netherlands             93,116
13. Finland                    88,130
14. Norway                   86,953
15. New Zealand          82,610
16. Ireland                     79,346
17. Spain                       66,752
18. Taiwan                    65,375
19. Austria                    63,741
20. Sweden                   63,376
21. Malta                       63,271
22. Qatar                       56,969
23. Germany                 54,090
24. Greece                     53,375
25. United States          53,352
26. Israel                       51,346
27. Slovenia                  50,329

Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2014, Table 2-4


  1. Why is the US #4 in median INCOME (ahead of Australia at #5), but so far behind in median WEALTH?

    Because we CHOOSE not to save.

    The relatively low median wealth is an indication of "inequality" of CHOICES. Bad choices have bad outcomes, and good choices have good outcomes.

    Australians do not earn more money, but they SAVE more money. They make Good Choices.

    The solution is to get Americans to make Good Choices, not to reward them for making Bad Choices.

  2. My take is that this is a great example of statistics being like lampposts. They can be used for light, the drunk uses the lamppost, for support.

    The average Italian or Frenchman is three times wealthier than the average American?

    1. No, the average Italian or French person is not three times wealthier. U.S. mean wealth per adult is higher than both. But the median for the French and Italians is far higher than in the U.S., because of the highly unequal distribution of wealth in the U.S. Half of American adults have less than $53,352 in net assets. Half of French adults have over $140,000 in net assets. The mean (not median) of Italian debt per adult is under $26,000, far less than in the U.S.

    2. Mean, median, mode are three different ways of looking at 'average'. But, put aside the pedantry. Are you really capable of believing that the 'median' Italian is three times wealthier than the 'median' American?

  3. To make my point a little clearer, the census;

    tells us that the median size of newly constructed residences in the USA was 2,169 sq ft in 2010, while the mean average was 2,392 sq ft. The median is within 90% of the mean. (note that in the supposedly less unequal early 1970s, it was only 92%).

    Now, I can't readily find the same mean v median sq. footage internationally, but surely, if you're correct that countries like Italy and France have less inequality, then the difference is even less than in the USA. So, mean should work well enough for comparison. And this site;

    says Americans live in much, much bigger houses. How does that square with the Credit Suisse report?

    1. The size of residences does not correlate with wealth across countries. A square foot in an Italian city is worth more than a square foot in the U.S., because Italy is much more densely populated. Mean Italian wealth is mostly in non-financial wealth, whereas in the U.S., it is over 2/3 in financial wealth (but we don't have data for those categories at the median).

      And yes, I am quite capable of believing that the median Italian has much more wealth than the median American. Their homes are expensive, and mostly paid off.

    2. I take it you've never been to Italy.

    3. Of course I've been to Italy. Like I tell my students, I have the perfect job because I'm passionate about politics and I love to travel.

  4. If Italians have such large amounts of equity in their homes, wouldn't they be able to borrow against that to finance consumption and stimulate the Italian economy out of its lengthy depression?

    We don't seem to see that happening.

  5. Having home equity isn't much help in these situations. So Italian property values are high. What good does that do the Italians? None. How does it help the "median" Italian retire? Will he sell his house and move to a cheaper country?

    Bill Gates is in a similar situation. He is a multi-billionaire on paper, but if he announced tomorrow that he was selling all of his Microsoft stock, what would it be worth?

    This is one of the fallacies of wealth comparisons and of the concept of a wealth tax.