Western Europe Has Most Millionaires, Study Finds

John Roach
for National Geographic News
July 11, 2003

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In real life, unlike reality TV, Europe really is the place to meet an honest Joe (or Jo) millionaire, according to a recent report of the world's richest people. The continent is home to approximately 2.6 million of the deep-pocketed individuals.

"In Europe there is a lot of old and inherited money. There has been capital formation for a number of years, centuries really," said Jim Wiggins, a spokesman for Merrill Lynch's Global Private Client Group in New York.

The money managers, in collaboration with the consulting firm Cap, Gemini, Ernst & Young, produce the annual World Wealth Report to determine how best to serve the niche market of so-called high net worth individuals.

In total, there are an estimated 7.3 million people in the world whose assets—excluding their home—amount to U.S. $1 million or more. Behind Europe, North America has the second highest concentration of millionaires at 2.2 million. The Asia Pacific region accounts for 1.8 million. Latin America and the Middle East account for 300,000 each, and Africa accounts for 100,000.

"Generally where you see the largest concentration of high net worth individuals are countries with the most developed economies," said Wiggins. "Western Europe has had a developed economy for longer than any other region."

The world's 7.3 million millionaires collectively own U.S. $27.2 trillion in financial assets, which is a 3.6 percent rise from the 2002 report. Nearly 200,000 people joined the ranks of the world's millionaires in 2003, a 2.1 percent rise. According to the report's authors, 2003 had the lowest growth rate in the report's seven-year history.

Overall, the Asia Pacific region experienced the strongest regional growth in millionaires, while North America reported a decline of 2.1 percent due to the crumbling stock market and Latin America experienced a 3.6 percent decline due to the oil crisis in Venezuela and the crash of the Argentinean peso.

World's Poor

While the rich struggle to get richer, the World Bank estimates in its 2003 World Bank Atlas that nearly 23 percent of the world's 6.1 billion people struggle to get by on less than U.S. $1 a day.

For the world's poor, and many other people, "wealth" is not necessarily measured in financial assets, but could include the relative luxury of access to fresh water and clean air, the ability to read a book, and a balanced meal at the end of the day.

"We in most of the developed world are used to having access to water. In other parts of the world that may be a large portion of their income to have access to that water," said Richard Fix, a spokesman at the World Bank's 'Development Data Group in Washington, D.C.

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