2019 had a record-high number of billionaires — here's how many and why

Twenty/20 | @ravivora

There were 2,825 billionaires in the world in 2019, up 8.5% from 2,604 billionaires in 2018, according to market research firm Wealth-X.

That's the most billionaires there have been since Wealth-X began tracking the numbers in 2010.

And the billionaires' combined net worth was $9.4 trillion last year, up from $8.6 trillion in 2018. 

Why did billionaires have such a banner year? "A flood of central bank liquidity," or governmental central banks flooding their respective national economies with access to cash, lifted stock markets around the world in 2019, supporting the net worth of global billionaires, says the report, released Tuesday.

"This reflects almost a decade of global economic expansion following the [2008-9] financial crisis, a time which saw large gains in the financial markets and economic recoveries boosted by the sizable fiscal and monetary policy ammunition directed at economies during and following the crisis," says Maya Imberg, senior director of thought leadership and analytics at Wealth-X.

There were more billionaires in Europe — 847 total — than any other region in the world in 2019, followed closely by North America, which had 834. But the combined net worth of North America's billionaires, which was $3.5 trillion, far surpassed that of the Europe's at $2.5 trillion.

Such immense wealth distributed among less than three thousand people is in stark contrast to those at the other end of the spectrum and highlights the global wealth gap. 

For instance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek in September, 1.5 billion adults around the world have a net worth of $1,000 or less.

Looking at World Bank figures, as of 2015 (the most recent estimates), 10% of the global population, or 734 million people, lived below the international poverty line, or on less than $1.90 per day.

In recent decades, the population living below the international poverty line had been shrinking; in 1990, it was 36% of the global population, or 1.9 billion people. Unfortunately, that trend is not expected to continue.

"[D]ue to the COVID-19 crisis as well as the oil price drop, this trend probably will reverse in 2020," according to the World Bank. "The COVID-19 crisis will have a disproportionate impact on the poor, through job loss, loss of remittances, rising prices, and disruptions in services such as education and health care."

See also: 

Global stock markets gained $17 trillion in value in 2019

The majority of billionaires in the world are self-made

The number of very rich people surged in 2019—here's why

Bill and Melinda Gates say it's unfair that they have so much wealth
Bill and Melinda Gates say it's unfair that they have so much wealth