The global distribution of wealth has changed dramatically since 1995. The figure below shows the world wealth distribution in 1995, where countries are ordered from poorest in red on the left to richest in green on the right. The height of each bar shows the average wealth in each decile within a country, ordered from the poorest 10% (at the front) to the richest 10% (at the back). The figure uses data from the World Inequality Database (WID).
By 2020, which is the latest available data, many countries have changed their ranking, and the heights of the bars also become more unequal, with some very tall skyscrapers appearing.
In the diagrams, wealth refers to the total value of the assets hold by a household such as its savings, bonds and houses, minus its debts. Use this interactive tool to explore how the wealth distribution within and between countries has changed over time (1995-2020). For up to seven countries of your choice, you can create a ‘skyscraper’ diagram, view the Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients, and compare the rich/middle ratio of wealth within each country
Find out more
You can explore in more depth the skyscraper diagrams of the global wealth distribution: visit CORE Skyscraper 2: Exploring global wealth inequality for an interactive version of the graphs. From that website, you can also download the WID data that we used to construct the figures. You can learn more about how WID collects data by checking this report. If you are interested in exploring what is included in wealth, search for the variable ahweal in this variable table on WID's website.
To find out more about the trends in wealth and wealth inequality over the past few centuries, how to measure inequality, and policies that can address economic inequality visit our Economic Inequality pathway on the online learning platform LabXchange.
LabXchange is Harvard’s online community for educators, learners, and researchers to collaborate on educational content. CORE has partnered with LabXchange to be the first provider of economics content.
A pathway is a learning experience assembled like a storyline, consisting of different elements – for example, text with slideline figures and questions with immediate feedback. We suggest the order in which these elements should be presented to students, however, teachers have the flexibility to select some, and incorporate them to other material they are already using on LabXchange.
In this visualization, you can explore how the wealth distribution within and between countries has changed over time.
You can use the slider to select a particular year, and the drop-down menu to select up to seven countries (you can also type in the country names to search for specific countries). To remove a country from the list, select it and press Delete or Backspace on your keyboard.
- The 'Skyscraper plot' tab shows the wealth distribution for your chosen countries as a 3D plot, where the heights of the bars show the average wealth in each decile.
- In the 'Lorenz curve' tab, you can see how much the wealth distribution for each country differs from a perfectly equal wealth distribution, and the associated Gini coefficient.
- The 'Rich/middle wealth ratio' tab allows you to compare countries according to another measure of inequality: how many times wealthier the wealthiest people in a country are compared to people who have an average wealth.
To learn more about how wealth and wealth inequality have evolved over time, read Unit 1 of The Economy.
Choose up to 7 countries
The 3D plot shows the average wealth in each decile for your chosen countries (in thousands of 2021 USD). This measure of wealth takes into account changes in purchasing power over time. For more details, see Section 1.2 of The Economy. To explore in more depth the global wealth distribution for all countries, visit CORE Skyscraper 2: Exploring global wealth inequality
For each country, the tallest bars show the average wealth of the richest 10%, and the shortest bars show the average wealth of the poorest 10%. Countries are ordered from left to right by average wealth (in thousands of 2021 USD) in the year chosen and are coloured according to their average wealth in that year.
You can click and drag the plot to read the axes values more clearly and zoom in and out using the scroll function on your mouse or trackpad.
You should note three things about the visualisations:
- For certain countries, the wealth of the bottom 10% or even 20% could be negative, suggesting that they are in debt.
- The colouring of a country's bar changes according to the country's relative position in the global wealth distribution. For instance, China moves from the fourth quintile in 1995 to the second quintile in 2020.
- In the global skyscraper figures, the size of the country’s population is reflected in the width of its block. To enable up to seven countries to be compared, in this visualization, each country’s block is the same width.
Gini coefficient - a measure of inequality of any quantity such as income or wealth, varying from a value of zero (if there is no inequality) to one (if a single individual receives all of it). Higher values of the Gini coefficient indicate greater inequality. Traditionally, the Gini coefficient is calculated as one-half times the average of the wealth differences between people in the population, divided by the average wealth of the population. It can be approximated by dividing the area enclosed by the Lorenz curve and the perfect equality line by the entire area under the perfect equality line (shown in red). For more information, read Unit 5 of The Economy.
Lorenz curve - a graphical representation of inequality of some quantity such as wealth or income. Individuals are arranged in ascending order by how much of this quantity they have, and the cumulative share of the total is then plotted against the cumulative share of the population. For complete equality of wealth, for example, it would be a straight line with a slope of one. The extent to which the curve falls below this perfect equality line is a measure of inequality.
Note that it is possible for the wealth of some people to be negative, if they are in debt. In that case, the Lorenz curve may slope below the x-axis on the diagram. Moreover, this also required reclaculating the Gini coefficient using a corrected procedure since the standard Gini measure does not allow for negative values.
Rich/middle wealth ratio - the average wealth of the richest 10% in the population (10th decile) divided by the average wealth of the middle 10% in the population (5th decile). The higher the ratio is, the more unequal the distribution of wealth will be.
Note: Countries are coloured according to their average income in the year you have selected. Thus, if a country's income is growing, its colour can change from shades of red to shades of green.