The Richest of the Rich

Forbes released two days ago a ranked list of the world’s billionaires—all 1011 of them. Bill Gates, topping the list 14 times in the past 15 years, is now second, behind telecom giant Carlos Slim by a mere half a billion dollars. Mere, at least, by standards of the super rich. They have net worths of $53 billion and $53.5 billion respectively.

Notable is an increase from last year, when the list included only 793 names: a 27.5% increase. This is largely due to economic recovery. Still, the economy has not fully regenerated; the number of billionaires in the 2008 list was 1125.

Right now the Earth’s population is approximately 6.7 billion, meaning approximately one in 6.7 million persons is a billionaire. On the other hand, there were 9.5 million millionaires in 2006 according to the 2007 World Wealth Report—1 in 705 persons is a millionaire. So, even among millionaires, the proportion of billionaires is quite small*: 1 in 9397 millionaires is a billionaire. A person is thus 13.3 times more likely to be a millionaire among the general population than a billionaire among millionaires.

*The figures following the asterisk above use data from two different years: 2006 and 2010, and so are not exact. If we compare data from just 2006, we have 793 billionaires, and so the generalizations would be even stronger—only 1 in 11980 millionaires is a billionaire, and the 13.3 factor becomes 17.0.

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