Billionaires are one millionth of humanity

How many billionaires in the world? Statistics difficult, but simple order of magnitude: less than one person in a million.

Billionaires fascinate or annoy. It depends, knowledge of their situations depends on databases and rankings that often make newspaper coverage. However, this information only captures part of reality. Protection of privacy and, above all, opacity in many countries, prevent an indisputable picture.


Several rankings have been established, notably in the United States, by Forbes magazine  and by the financial group Bloomberg. The latter proposes a hierarchy of the 500 people supposedly the richest in the world , reviewed daily corrected for stock market and currency fluctuations. Other information is produced by the Hurun news group , based in China, where the number of billionaires is growing fastest.

According to the latter source, at the start of 2019, the world had 2,470 billionaires (in dollars). Here we have the extremely rich, well above the famous “1%”: they only represent 0.00004% of humanity! To put it statistically otherwise, officially identified billionaires only account for 0.4 millionth of the world’s population.

Also Read: 10 Men Have more Wealth than 85 Countries

Due to the stock market trends of 2018, that number decreased by 224 in one year. More than the economic situation, it is the composition of the extremely wealthy population and its evolution that matters.

It is in China that we now find the greatest number: 658. It is now ahead of the United States (584), where still live six of the ten richest billionaires. Germany (117), the United Kingdom (109), India (104), Switzerland (77), Russia (59), Brazil (53), Thailand (50) follow. France (48) is in 10th place.

The city of residence of most of them is Beijing (103), ahead of New York (92), Hong Kong (69), Shenzhen (67), Shanghai (66), London (65), Moscow (52) , Bangkok (49), Mumbai (42), San Francisco (37). In this list, Paris (36) ranks 11th, tied with Seoul.

Globally, two thirds of these billionaires, as identified by Hurun, are ”  self-made men  “. The other third would be made up of heirs.

Women account for only 16% of “titular” billionaires. Because everything resides in this “title”. Being a billionaire is measured on a personal level. An illustration of this choice of calculation goes through the news of marital fortunes, with the divorce, in 2019, of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos. While only the first was counted as a billionaire, after his divorce, the second joined the gigantic fortunes of this world, with 38 billion dollars. And Jeff remains the richest man in the world.

To approach the extreme opulence of billionaires, it is not the standards of living that are taken into consideration, but the heritage. This is, for the most privileged, individual. In certain cases, for reasons of family history and tax choices, the patrimony can be family, but it is much rarer.

Some billionaires are extremely famous. They are followed by millions of people on social media. This is the case of Donald Trump with, in September 2019, 64 million subscribers on Twitter, Bill Gates, the CEO of Microsoft (48 million), Oprah Winfrey, the American television host (43 million) for example. In China, Jack Ma, head of Alibaba, has 25 million subscribers on Weibo. But many other billionaires are totally unknown, absent from social networks, and with actually unrecognized resources.

In fact, measuring the number of billionaires is not an exact science. The head of the Hurun report admits it: for every billionaire identified, he believes, there is probably one missing. Especially among the reigning families, especially in the Gulf countries. Moreover, while some extraordinarily rich personalities like to be talked about about themselves, their economic exploits, their lifestyle or their generosity, most billionaires prefer to remain discreet. To protect yourself, in terms of security, as well as taxation. In total therefore, billionaires would be twice as numerous, reaching barely one millionth of humanity.

Julien Damon, sociologist, associate professor at Sciences Po Paris, founder of the company Eclairs and author in particular of Exclusion , coll. What do I know ?, PUF, 2018.

The ten richest people in the world
Early 2019 according to HurunSeptember 3, 2019 according to Bloomberg
RankLast nameWealth (in billions of dollars)Last nameWealth (in billions of dollars)
1Jeff Bezos147Jeff Bezos111
2Bill Gates96Bill Gates107
3Warren Buffett88Bernard Arnault96
4Bernard Arnault86Warren Buffett80
5Mark Zuckerberg80Mark Zuckerberg72
6Carlos Slim Helu & family66Amancio Ortega67
7Amancio Ortega56Charles Koch59
8Mukesh Ambani54Larry Page58
9Sergey Brin54Larry Ellison57
10Larry Page53Sergey Brin56

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