Share of Wealth Held by 10 Percent of World's Richest Hits Historic Levels Amid Pandemic

Global wealth inequality and wealth concentration have risen at their highest rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, global wealth inequality has reportedly reached similar levels of disparity to the early 20th Century, according to the latest World Inequality Report published on Tuesday. The report details how, according to its data, the richest 52 percent of the world population now takes in 52 percent of the world's income. By contrast, the poorest half of the entire world makes up only 8 percent.

Additionally, the report found even starker contrasts in wealth ownership. In 2021, the richest 10 percent own a considerable 76 percent of the world's wealth. Meanwhile, the poorest half own a paltry 2 percent.

wealth inequality 2021
According to the latest World Inequality Report, the richest 52 percent of the world population now takes in 52 percent of the world's income. Here, people participate in a "March on Billionaires" event on July 17, 2020 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Global inequalities seem to be about as great today as they were at the peak of Western imperialism in the early 20th century," the report stated. "Indeed, the share of income presently captured by the poorest half of the world's people is about half what it was in 1820, before the great divergence between Western countries and their colonies...

"In other words, there is still a long way to go to undo the global economic inequalities inherited from the very unequal organization of world production between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries."

The report broke down the areas of the world where wealth inequality is the most severe. In general, it found that the region known as "MENA," constituting the Middle East and Noth Africa, has the worst inequality, while Europe has the least disparity. For comparison, the wealthiest 10 percent in the MENA region make 58 percent of the income, compared to 36 percent in Europe.

The national average income for a country is a poor indicator of a country's overall economic inequality, according to the report. The report noted that the U.S., with its generally high income, boasted significant inequality. Meanwhile, medium-to-low income nations like Malaysia and Uruguay were found to have relatively moderate levels of inequality.

"Income and wealth inequalities have been on the rise nearly everywhere since the 1980s, following a series of deregulation and liberalization programs which took different forms in different countries," the report continued. "The rise has not been uniform: certain countries have experienced spectacular increases in inequality [including the US, Russia and India] while others [European countries and China] have experienced relatively smaller rises. These differences, which we discussed at length in the previous edition of the World Inequality Report, confirm that inequality is not inevitable, it is a political choice."

In November, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador touched on the issue of global wealth inequality, calling on the rich to take action toward helping the poor. Speaking before the U.N. Security Council, he proposed a plan that would take only 4 percent of the income from the world's 1,000 wealthiest people and 0.2 percent of the GDPs from 20 major economies to help generate funds for the world's very poorest communities.

"The spirit of cooperation is losing ground to the desire for profit, and this is leading us to slide from civilization into barbarity," López Obrador said. "We are moving forward, alienated, forgetting moral principles, and turning our backs on the pain of humanity."