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Study Shows Just How Unequally Divided the World's Wealth Is

Report from UN University says two percent of the richest adults own more than half of the personal wealth. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

More than half of the world's wealth belongs to just two percent of adults. A new study also found that fifty percent of adults own just one percent of all the wealth.

The report is from the World Institute for Development Economics Research, part of the United Nations University in Helsinki, Finland. The institute says the study of personal wealth was the first of its kind to include all countries and all major parts of household wealth.

Researchers considered possessions, property -- all physical and financial assets. They also took debts into consideration. They used information from the year two thousand. And here is some of what they found:

Adults worth at least two thousand two hundred dollars were in the top half of world wealth.

The richest ten percent were those worth at least sixty-one thousand dollars.

And the richest one percent had wealth of at least five hundred thousand dollars. Thirty-seven million people were in that top one percent. More than half lived in the United States or Japan.

North America has only six percent of all adults but thirty-four percent of all household wealth. Together, people in North America, Europe and high-income countries in Asia and the Pacific hold almost ninety percent of world wealth.

The study found that wealth is more unequally spread than income. Countries where people earn a lot generally have a bigger share of world wealth than of the value of world economic production. The opposite is generally true for countries where income is lower.

The director of the institute, Anthony Shorrocks, offered a simple way to think of all these numbers. If the world had only ten people, he says, one person would have ninety-nine dollars. The other nine people would have to share one dollar.

An issue related to world wealth is remittances. People who migrate to wealthier countries to find work commonly send part of their earnings to family members back home. These remittances are often an important part of the economy in the countries that receive them. In fact, remittances represent the largest amount of outside financing for many developing countries.

The World Bank recently reported the latest estimates. Remittances are expected to reach one hundred ninety-nine thousand million dollars this year. This is a six percent increase from last year -- and more than twice the level in two thousand one.

In dollar terms, Latin American and Caribbean countries receive more money through remittances than other areas. But as a share of their economies, recorded remittances are highest in the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States is the largest source of remittances. But the World Bank notes that many developing countries that receive them also have large numbers of migrants in Europe.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Brianna Blake. You can learn more about development issues, and download MP3 files and program transcripts, at I'm Steve Ember.