Forget trade wars, US and China compete for most billionaires

  • The total number of billionaires climbed to 2,158 in 2017, according to a new report.
  • At the same time, billionaire wealth grew to a record $8.9 trillion.
  • While the U.S. has more billionaires, China minted new members of this elite club at a faster clip.
A scene from the movie "Crazy Rich Asians"
Source: Crazy Rich Asians
A scene from the movie "Crazy Rich Asians"

You may have bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket with dreams of becoming a billionaire.

It turns out many individuals are reaching that level of wealth the old-fashioned way.

The total number of billionaires is growing, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, reaching 2,158 individuals worldwide in 2017, a new study shows.

Billionaire wealth grew by 19 percent to $8.9 trillion in 2017 — the largest increase historically, according to the latest report on billionaires from UBS and PwC.

Number of billionaires across subregions

Region Subregion Number of billionaires 2016 Number of billionaires 2017
Asia Pacific 711 814
Greater China 418 475
Oceania 34 43
South East Asia 259 296
EMEA 586 629
Eastern Europe 147 163
Middle East and North Africa 42 52
Western Europe 397 414
Americas 682 715
Central and South America 83 84
North America 599 631
Total 1,979 2,158
Source: UBS/PwC

That surge comes largely from two places: Asia, specifically China, and the U.S.

The U.S. added 53 billionaires in 2017 — a 4 percent increase — bringing its total to 585 and representing $125 billion in total wealth.

China's billionaire population grew at a faster clip — two new billionaires per week. The country added 106 billionaires over the course of the year, while 51 fell off the list, "illustrating the risks of doing business in China," the report said.

As a result, China added 55 billionaires net for a total of 373 in 2017. In 2006, the country had just 16 billionaires.

Right now, the Americas region is still in the lead when it comes to total billionaire wealth.

But Asia, in total, now has more billionaires than the U.S. And within a few years, its billionaire wealth is also poised to surpass the U.S.

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One reason for that is the growing Asian tech industry.

China currently has 67 companies with unicorn status — start-ups valued at over $1 billion — compared with 119 in the United States.

In 2017, China created more self-made billionaire entrepreneurs, with 89 versus 30 in the U.S.