The Lists

How Many Billionaires are there in the World?

In the midst of the usual Monday doom and gloom news reports, as we yawned from staying up too late to watch the Olympics, one headline in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal caught our attention here at Dandelion Chandelier. According to the consultants at Wealth-X, who are experts on people with net worth of $30 million or more, there are officially 2,473 billionaires in the world. That’s up by 6.4% from the prior year. In the world of luxury, that counts as important breaking news.

The “Class of 2015-16” has a collective net worth of $7.7 trillion. Of course, this doesn’t mean they have that much cash on hand. A lot of their wealth is tied up in real estate, stock in companies they own, and other illiquid assets. Still, no matter how much you qualify it, that’s a lot of scratch.

Where is all this wealth coming from? Almost half the billionaires live in Europe, the Middle East or Africa. The Americas region comes in second, and perhaps surprisingly, booming Asia brings up the rear. According to this study, that isn’t likely to last for long, though. Asia is minting new billionaires at four times the rate of the Americas.

I will leave it to others to opine about the fairness and political ramifications of this enormous concentration of global wealth (although I will say it would be extremely interesting to know how many of the 2,473 donate money to individual politicians or to political parties).

The survey notes that 87% of these billionaires are “self-made.” Personally, I would put an asterisk next to that statistic, given the amount of nefarious behavior going on in the world (you remember that old saying about how behind every great fortune there lurks a great crime?) Still, I want to believe that the vast majority of these people really did work hard, were smart, were lucky – probably some combination of all three – and now they control massive resources.

Side note to those who want to join this club: earlier this year Business Insider reported that among the daily habits of self-made billionaires are: meditation, exercise, waking up early, sticking to routines, being frugal, and reading books. (Old school stuff. Your mom was totally right about what you need to do to be successful. Just sayin’. Hope my kids are reading this.)

I wanted to know more about this cohort: how many are women (how many of the self-made ones are women)? How many are below the age of 40? How many are of color? How many are LGBT? How many of them know each other personally? Is there a secret handshake? Are they happy? Do they really still put their pants on one leg at a time? Do they like dogs? At any given moment, how many of them feel broke?

The Journal ends its story on a happy note, highlighting the Giving Pledge, an effort to get billionaires to donate the majority of their wealth. Reportedly, more than 56% of this group “either undertake or are interested in pursuing philanthropic activities.” (I would like to know how many are “interested” as opposed to actually doing it, but on this, the report is mum.)

So luxury community, take heart. The global economy continues its gyrations, and geopolitical issues of all kinds continue to make luxury consumers skittish about traveling. Exchange rates are a big pain, and it’s been a tough year for top-line growth. But those billionaire ranks just keep growing. And they’re going to need – and want – stuff. 2,473 today, 3,000+ tomorrow.

Seems like a pretty good growth story.