Even though inequality on a global level has been declining for decades, we can probably all agree that there are still significant differences in most areas of life among countries, including personal finance.
Some of the most significant differences that we will cover in this article include:
- Psychological, emotional, and societal factors
- Financial literacy
- Net worth
- Real estate ownership
Let’s take a look at the current state of the world in these regards and how these factors have changed over time.
Psychological, Emotional, and Societal Factors
It would be an understatement to say that psychology and emotions play a big role in personal finance and investing. We can all see that humans are not 100% rational beings and don’t always follow the expected behaviour or act according to economic theory.
Let’s have a look at some of these factors:
1. We don’t think the world is getting better in general (even though it is)
According to Our World in Data, people tend to think about their own futures more optimistically but about society’s collective future more pessimistically. The former probably stems from our evolutionary brain wiring (will for self-preservation), and the latter from the influence of modern societal structures and media.
For example, the decline in extreme global poverty has been more than well-documented in modern times. Yet, most of us think that it’s getting worse. More than half of the respondents globally believe that extreme global poverty is on the rise when, actually, the opposite is true.
In general, we should assign a much higher probability of the world being a better place in the future than it is today if we look at the trends from previous decades or even centuries. It looks like the countries that have had direct experience with a rising standard of living in recent times are tending to be more optimistic in this regard.
2. Half of Americans have difficulty paying their rent, and almost a third are struggling with money
According to The State of Personal Finance Annual Report by Ramsey Solutions, half (50%) of Americans had difficulty paying rent in Q1 2023. This number is fairly high but still significantly lower than the high 64% in Q3 2022.
When talking about money struggles in general, almost a third (30%) of respondents say they’re either struggling or in crisis with their finances.
Debt seems to be among the greatest factors in self-reported money struggles since 40% of debt owners report struggling with money, compared to only 22% of respondents with no debt.
3. US Women and millennials are more financially vulnerable than other groups
The same report tells us that US women are almost twice as likely to say they’re struggling with money than men (38% vs. 21%). We can only speculate on the various factors influencing this issue, such as the gender wage gap, financial violence, differences in access to financial knowledge/services, and more.
As far as the age groups go, millennials struggle with money the most (37%), with Baby Boomers struggling the least (22%).
Financial literacy and education
The road to improving one’s finances has to start with financial education. This is probably the most impactful and low-cost way each of us can improve our finances. The current state of financial literacy and education in the world is much more dire than many of us would assume, as we will see in the following statistics.
4. Only one-third of people worldwide are financially literate, with men being slightly more financially literate
According to the most comprehensive global financial literacy survey conducted by Standard & Poor’s, only a third (33%) of respondents are financially literate. The threshold for being considered financially literate was understanding 3 out of 4 basic financial concepts presented in the survey, including basic numeracy, risk diversification, compound interest, and inflation.
Men were shown to be slightly more financially literate (35%) than women (30%) globally.
5. Norway and Sweden are the most financially literate countries, followed by other developed (high-income) economies
With 71% of the population being financially literate, Sweden and Norway take the top spot in the aforementioned survey. Other developed economies such as Germany, the US, the UK, Australia, and others all have more than half of the population financially literate.
Income level has been shown to be one of the best predictors of financial literacy, both among different countries and for other population groups inside a certain country.
6. The younger population is more financially literate, with a significant drop for ages 65+
If we look at the age distribution of financial literacy, we can see that the younger generations are more financially literate than the older generations. However, there is only a gradual linear decline until late middle age, but it is followed by a steep drop for the population aged 65+.
7. Apart from age and income, other predictors of high financial literacy rates are direct experiences
The same S&P survey shows that, regardless of the country observed, it seems that the respondents who own a bank account, have loans, or have experienced high inflation are more financially literate than others.
This just goes to show that experiences (and especially negative ones) are proven to be good teachers.
8. People with low levels of financial literacy are five times more likely to be unable to cover one month of living expenses than people with high levels of financial literacy
A Bankrate survey has shown that people who have received a financial education tend to have a higher level of financial literacy, which can lead to them being less likely to face financial difficulties.
More precisely, people with low levels of financial literacy were five times more likely to be unable to cover one month of living expenses when compared to people with high financial literacy.
While differences in income are often the main topic when discussing differences across countries, net worth is probably the best measure of one’s financial wealth. As a reminder: net worth is calculated by adding all your financial assets (real estate, cash, investments, etc.) and subtracting all your liabilities (mortgage, loans, and other debt).
9. The average net worth for adults globally is $84,718 but varies wildly from country to country
According to the Credit Suisse and UBS Global Wealth Report, the average net worth for adults globally is $84,718. This number, of course, varies wildly across different countries.
Often, the countries with the largest incomes (or, more precisely, with a high purchasing power parity) have the largest net worth. However, many other factors may influence this, such as taxes, access to financial markets, financial literacy, etc.
10. More than half of adults globally have less than $10,000, but on the other hand, 59.4 million people are USD millionaires
Using the same report, if we divide the adult population globally by net worth in USD, we can see that more than half of adults globally (52.54%) have less than $10,000 in their name. At the same time, there are 59.4 million USD millionaires in the world (1.11% of the global adult population).
This also means that if your net worth is over $100,000 you are among the 13% wealthiest adults on the planet. Also, keep in mind that as recently as the year 2000, more than 80% of the global population had a net worth lower than $10,000.
11. Global wealth (net worth) inequality is on the decline, but still, the richest 1% own 44.5% of financial assets
The same Credit Suisse and UBS report shows us that the trend of reducing global wealth inequality has been steady for decades, especially in the 21st century. The proof of that is that the median wealth (net worth) has increased five-fold this century, roughly double the rate of growth of mean net worth. This is largely due to the rapid wealth growth in China and other emerging countries.
Despite that, the richest 1% still own around 44.5% of financial assets worldwide.
12. Switzerland has the highest mean net worth per adult in the world, but Belgium and Australia have the highest median
It’s interesting to note that, according to the same report, Switzerland has by far the highest mean net worth per adult in the world (over $680,000), with the US and Hong Kong at a distant second place with around $550,000 each.
However, countries with lower levels of inequality in this regard take the cake when it comes to the highest median net worth per adult. Belgium and Australia are global leaders, just shy of $250,000 median net worth per adult.
13. The US is home to more than half of ultra high net worth individuals (over $50 million in net worth)
It’s a striking statistic that more than half (51%) of ultra-high-net-worth individuals are based in the US. Europe as a whole is a distant second with 17%, and mainland China holds around 11%.
Chinese ultra high net worth individuals have been on the rise, though, increasing in numbers faster than any other country or region in recent decades.
14. The average net worth rises significantly with age (until the 75+ age group)
It is unsurprising that according to the latest SCF survey, the average net worth for US citizens rises significantly with age. After all, more time on Earth means more total income and more time for the compound interest to do its magic.
Young Americans up to 35 years of age have only $13,900 to their name, with that number rising quickly through the mid-life age and plateauing just after the usual retirement age (65-74) at over a quarter of a million dollars. However, there is a decline in the 75+ age group, probably due to lower income, inadequate pension, higher healthcare costs, and various other factors.
15. Single men have a higher net worth than single women, but both have significantly lower combined net worth than couples
The aforementioned SCF survey brings to light some interesting statistics about the net worth of single men, women, and couples in the US.
Namely, single women under the age of 35 have only around 13% of the median net worth compared to their single male counterparts ($1,310 vs. $10,110), and women aged 35 to 54 have just under 35% ($13,730 vs. $39,260) of the median net worth of single men that age.
This huge gap narrows substantially until the ages of 65+, where single women have 90% of the median net worth of single men.
They are both dwarfed by married couples with at least twice as high a net worth through all age groups as single men and women combined.
16. Global wealth is projected to rise by 38% in the next 5 years, with low and middle-income countries responsible for the majority of it
The aforementioned UBS & Credit Suisse report is projecting a 38% rise in global wealth over the next 5 years, reaching $629 trillion by the end of 2027.
Low and middle-income countries are projected to drive 56% of that growth, even though they account for only 31% of global wealth today. This means that wealth inequality is continuing its trend of global decline.
17. Small developed countries have the largest GDP by PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) in the world
As we saw from some of the previous statistics, income level is one of the most reliable predictors of financial literacy, wealth (net worth), and more. Let’s take a look at how income is distributed both across and inside of certain countries.
According to the data from the IMF, small developed countries such as Singapore and Luxembourg rank highest in the world in terms of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) adjusted by their purchasing power parity (PPP).
However, keep in mind that these numbers may not show the real picture due to tax benefits that are commonly associated with smaller countries, which attract both wealthy individuals and large companies.
If we look past smaller countries and micronations, the top of this list is populated with “usual suspects”, such as EU countries and the US.
18. Income inequality (Gini index) is the smallest among northern and eastern European countries and the largest in African countries
|Rank||Country||Gini index (income inequality)|
While northern European countries having low-income inequality (Gini index) may not surprise many, the inclusion of countries such as Slovenia, Czechia, and Slovakia (all in the bottom 5) may surprise some. Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine are also in the bottom 10 (lowest income inequality).
The US, on the other hand, has one of the highest income inequalities among developed countries. They are at a high 54th place (out of 178 countries for which the CIA has data), just between Malaysia and Haiti.
At the very top of this list (the largest income inequality), we mostly find African countries. A bit surprisingly, the African economic powerhouse South Africa takes the top spot as being the most unequal country in the world in terms of income.
19. Income inequality is growing in the US
Even though income inequality is on the decline globally, it is still on the rise in some countries such as the US. According to Visual Capitalist, more than half of American households earn less than $75,000/year, and nearly 4 out of 10 are low-income households earning less than $50,000.
The middle class in America, in general, has shrunk significantly in the past 50 years, going from 61% of adults being middle-income in 1971 to 50% in 2021.
However, the median income for those considered middle class has jumped by 50% over the last five decades. This income growth has been 45% for low-income and 69% for high-income households (all inflation-adjusted).
While it is always better to focus on the personal finance factors we can control, such as budgeting, saving, or debt management, some factors are completely outside our control.
The elephant in the room is inflation, which has been at its highest point in most of the world for the past couple of years since the 1970s. However, we are also seeing some positive trends in 2023.
20. Inflation is slowing down in 2023 but is more persistent than expected
According to the latest data (September 2023) we gathered from Koyfin, the yearly inflation (CPI) in the U.K. was 6.8%, in the Euro Zone 5.3%, in the U.S. 3.7%, and only 0.1% in China.
All of these numbers are significantly lower than just a year ago and show a global trend in taming inflation.
However, inflation has been shown to be more persistent than initially expected. Latest forecasts project that global inflation will fall below 5% in 2024 and 4% in 2025.
21. Still, 83% of American adults cite inflation as a source of stress
According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, the vast majority (83%) of American adults consider inflation as a source of stress, significantly above even the general economy (69%) and money problems in general (66%).
We can probably expect this number to go down further if inflation continues to lower itself closer to its long-term historical average.
Real estate has been one of the oldest asset classes and wealth-building tools in human history. It is interesting to note that factors such as cultural differences, regulation, and taxation seem to play as large of a role in this aspect of personal finance as income.
22. More Americans own their home on average than EU or U.K. citizens
Nearly 70% of Americans own their home, compared to about 66% of the EU and 63% of the U.K. residents, respectively (according to Wikipedia). Owning your real estate has been one of the cornerstones of the American dream. Perhaps this is why Americans tend to own their home in a more significant proportion (on average) than their EU or U.K. counterparts.
However, it needs to be said that there are substantial variations inside the EU, with many of the southern and eastern European countries tending to own real estate in greater proportion than their western and northern European counterparts.
23. Real estate prices in 2022 have risen the most in Eastern Europe and declined the most in Hong Kong and New Zealand
Despite the high interest rates in most countries, real estate prices have been robust in 2022. Aside from Turkey, which is experiencing hyperinflation, most other top 10 countries in terms of real estate price growth in 2022 are in Eastern Europe. Iceland and Israel are the two exceptions in the top 10.
This just goes to show that real estate is still a common choice in fighting inflation for many.
Not many countries experienced real estate price decline in 2022, but from those that did, Hong Kong and New Zealand jumped off as the only ones with a double-digit percentage decline.
24. Real estate prices have tripled in the US since 2000
According to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, home prices in the U.S. have tripled since 2000. Coupled with rising interest rates, this has made housing much less affordable for the average American. The silver lining here is that this growth is slowly tapering off, and not only in the U.S.
It is interesting to see where the personal finance trends and statistics point towards. There have been a lot of ups and downs in this area in recent years for the average citizen of most countries.
However, if we step back and look at the bigger picture, we can clearly see that globally, we are (on average) better off financially than just a couple of decades ago. The world’s “financial pie” has been increasing rapidly ever since the Industrial Revolution, and this growth has been supercharged in recent decades with the invention and application of new technologies such as the internet.
Nevertheless, future growth and equal distribution of wealth and income are not guaranteed for all by any means. The first step each of us can take is to work on improving our financial literacy and behaviour.
Working on raising your income, budgeting, retirement planning, debt management, and investing go a long way in improving one’s finances in the long run.