New Zealand scores second on global wealth per capita, and first when adjusted for inequality

According to a major global survey, New Zealand is the wealthiest country in the world after Switzerland.

Accounting for inequality and converting the results to ‘median wealth’, New Zealand comes out on top.

The results are reported in the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2015.

The report calculates that adults in New Zealand have an average wealth of US$400,811, the second highest in the world but still well behind Switzerland at US$567,100.

This report uses official RBNZ data for 2014. More than half of that ‘wealth’ is in housing and land.

New Zealand beats Australia who were in third place at US$364,900.

The good result for New Zealand is surprising as it comes after a substantial reduction caused by exchange rates. In the previous year, Credit Suisse scored average per capital wealth in New Zealand at US$484,400.

Our high ‘average wealth’ score rises when adjusted to ‘median wealth’.

The ranking by median wealth per adult favors countries with lower levels of wealth inequality.

“On the basis of the revised data, we put New Zealand in second place in mid-2014 and conclude that this year its median wealth of US$182,600 displaces Australia (US$168,300) at the top of the list, where it had remained since 2008” the Report says.

Both countries are significantly ahead of third placed Belgium (US$150,300) and the United Kingdom (US$126,500), which moved up to fourth place. Norway follows with median wealth of US$119,600, then Switzerland (US$107,600), Singapore (US$98,900), Japan (US$96,100), Italy (US$88,600) and France (US$86,200).

Despite a rise in median wealth this year to US$49,800, the United States still lags well behind all these countries, although the value is similar to that of Spain and Denmark, and is above the median value of US$43,900 in Germany.

We are top of a very unequal world

To determine how global wealth is distributed across households and individuals – rather than regions or countries – Credit Suisse combine data on the level of household wealth across countries with information on the pattern of wealth distribution within countries. Once debts have been subtracted, a person needs only US$3,210 to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens in mid-2015.

However, US$68,800 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and US$759,900 to belong to the top 1%.

While the bottom half of adults collectively own less than 1% of total wealth, the richest decile holds 87.7% of assets, and the top percentile alone accounts for half of total household wealth.

We are likely to remain number one

The Report adjusts the usual ‘per capita’ definition to ‘per adult’. Net worth or “wealth” is defined as the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, less their debts. This corresponds to the balance sheet that a household might draw up, listing the items which are owned and their net value if sold. Private pension fund assets are included, but not entitlements to state pensions. Human capital is excluded altogether, along with assets and debts owned by the state (which cannot easily be assigned to individuals). For convenience, they disregard the relatively small amount of wealth owned by children on their own account, and frame the results in terms of the global adult population, which totaled 4.8 billion in 2015.

According to this data, 50.3% of all adults in New Zealand are ‘middle class” and 72.2% are ‘middle class and above’.

The Report also looks ahead to 2020 and concludes that New Zealand will likely retain its top spot for ‘median wealth’, followed by Australia, and then it is likely to be Sweden.