Maybe US wealth inequality isn't as bad as you thought

A woman begs in central Moscow.
Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images
A woman begs in central Moscow.

If you think inequality in the U.S. is bad, consider Russia.

According to a new ranking, Russia is the most unequal country in the world, with the highest share of national wealth held by those in its top 10 percent. The ranking, part of the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, found that Russia has 84.8 percent of its wealth held by its top 10 percent.

Russia, in fact, is far above any other country in the world when it comes to wealth inequality, ranking far above second-place Turkey (with 77.7 percent) and third-place Hong Kong (77.5 percent).

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The U.S. ranked in seventh place, with 74.6 percent of its wealth held by the top 10 percent, just behind Thailand, with 75 percent.

Countries with the most income inequality

Share of wealth held by richest 10%
1 Russia 84.8%
2 Turkey 77.7%
3 Hong Kong 77.5%
4 Indonesia 77.2%
5 Philippines 76%
6 Thailand 75%
7 U.S. 74.6%
8 India 74%
9 Egypt 73.3%
10 Brazil 73.3%
Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report

The most equal countries, in terms of wealth distribution, were Belgium (with 47.2 percent) followed by Japan (48.5 percent) and Australia (51.1 percent).

There are many ways to measure inequality of course: by wealth or income, by share of wealth held by the top 1 percent or top 10 percent, or by the share of wealth held by those in the middle or bottom.

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Yet measuring the share held by the top 10 percent is a useful barometer of how broadly a country's long-term prosperity is being distributed. And in many countries, the inequality trend is not as bad the headlines suggest by this measure.

Despite the perception that inequality is soaring around the world, inequality is rising only slightly in some countries and falling in others.

Countries with the most income equality

Share of wealth held by richest 10%
1 France 53.1%
2 Italy 51.5%
3 Australia 51.1%
4 Japan 48.5%
5 Belgium 47.2%
Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report

In fact, between 2000 and 2014, only one member of the G7 countries—the United Kingdom—saw an increase in equality. Over the past 14 years, wealth inequality in the U.S. has remained unchanged at 74.6 percent.

Inequality actually fell in Poland, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, France, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. It rose substantially in China, Egypt and Hong Kong.

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In the U.S. and other countries, inequality rose slightly between 2000 and 2007, but fell after the financial crisis.

"It appears that wealth inequality did not increase in some of the major countries closest to the center of the global financial crisis," the report said. "This result may be explained in part by the fact that the crisis saw the wealthy lose proportionally more than those at lower levels of the pyramid. In some countries, that equalizing effect still dominates, while in others, it has been reversed, partly due to strong market performance since 2009."


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