Inequality in wealth distribution. Women are catching up.

The amount of wealth held by women is growing – not just in a few places but worldwide. Nevertheless, there are still some obstacles to overcome before women and men achieve universal equality in terms of their assets. This article presents the latest findings from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report.

Global Wealth Report identifies an increase in women's wealth

According to the latest findings in the Global Wealth Report, the share of wealth held by women rose significantly over the 20th century. That fact is proven by studies measuring women's wealth based on the financial assets held by private households. According to the studies, women in Europe and the US reportedly own 40% to 45% of the respective total assets. In Africa and India, the share of wealth in the hands of women only amounts to between 20% and 30%.

Wealth distribution between the sexes in China and Latin America hovers around the mean. In those regions, 30% to 40% of total wealth is owned by women. Women in the Asia-Pacific region – excluding China and India – account for 25% to 35% of assets. When those numbers are combined, it can be said that the wealth of women, measured by household wealth, today makes up approximately 40% of global wealth. That is higher than in some previous studies.


Share of household wealth owned by women by region 

Source: James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018

Wealth distribution among the super rich

The top tiers of wealth distribution also show gender-based differences in affluence. In the US, women make up 39% of the upper echelon of wealth owners, with individual assets of over USD 50 million. In the United Kingdom, 42% of individuals with assets of over GBP 2 million are women.

The Forbes 400 List, an annual ranking of the 400 richest residents of the United States, reveals trends in wealth creation among the well-off. In 1990, there were 70 women on the list. By 1995, the total number of women who earned a spot on the list had even increased to 74. The figure for women fell to 41 in 2010 but has since rebounded to 52. The reasons for that include the declining numbers of women inheriting fortunes and self-made women. However, this trend is now experiencing a reversal. 


Number of women on the Forbes 400 List in the US 

Source: James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018

Wealth distribution among millennials: Women are catching up

What does gender-specific wealth distribution look like for Generation Y? Millennials have had a tough time due to a variety of factors, for example, the global financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn as well as digitalization. Overall, female millennials have fared better than their male counterparts. That is because the industries that suffered most during the financial crisis and the recession that followed included sectors that are mostly dominated by men: finance and construction, for instance. Meanwhile, the impact was less severe in service sectors such as education and healthcare.

The US Survey of Consumer Finances shows the evolution of gender-specific differences in wealth held by millennials. The survey found that single women between the ages of 20 to 24 owned wealth equal to 61% of that of single men at the same ages. In 1997, that figure was much lower, at 43%.

The Global Wealth Report offers no indication of universal improvement

The Global Wealth Report states that the share of global wealth owned by women has risen not only in the previous century but in the current one as well. Over the past few decades, women's assets in Asia have increased together with the spread of wealth in China. It is also apparent that more self-made women are succeeding in global business, allowing them to join the upper ranks of the wealthy.

Nevertheless, some categories of women, for example, single mothers and divorced women, remain disadvantaged, even in countries where the greatest progress has been made. Women’s employer-related pension assets also lag behind those of men in some countries, although they have been rising. There has been no across-the-board improvement in the financial situation of women yet. However, the data shows that advancements have been made in many areas of the world.