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The Geography of the World's Billionaires

New York, San Francisco, Moscow, Hong Kong, and London top the list, but some smaller cities have more billionaires than their size might suggest.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates at Columbia University. (Mike Segar / Reuters)

Over the past couple of decades, the growth of the world’s super-rich has brought about levels of global inequality not seen since the Gilded Age. Understanding where these super-rich individuals and families actually live can help us learn about their sources of wealth and how their mobility affects cities in a global economy. Cities such as New York, London, and Paris have seen huge inflows of the super-rich, a fact which many believe has contributed to skyrocketing housing prices and burgeoning inequality in these cities.

A new report that I co-authored with my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander sets out to map this global geography of the super-rich. To do so, we used detailed data from Forbes on the more than 1,800 billionaires across the globe, whose combined wealth exceeded $7 trillion in 2015.

(Isabel Ritchie)

All told, the U.S. is home to almost a third of the world’s billionaires, with another 12.2 percent from China, 4.5 percent each from India and Russia, and 4.3 percent from Germany. The map above and table below chart the numbers of billionaires across the world’s cities.

Metro Number of Billionaires Share of Billionaires
New York 116 6.4%
San Francisco Bay Area 71 3.9%
Moscow 68 3.7%
Hong Kong 64 3.5%
Los Angeles 51 2.8%
London 50 2.7%
Beijing 46 2.5%
Mumbai 33 1.8%
Miami 31 1.7%
Istanbul 30 1.6%
Seoul 29 1.6%
Paris 27 1.5%
Sao Paulo 27 1.5%
Shenzhen 25 1.4%
Taipei 25 1.4%
Dallas 24 1.3%
Singapore 22 1.2%
Chicago 19 1.0%
Shanghai 19 1.0%
Zurich 18 1.0%

New York is first by a considerable margin with 116 billionaires, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area with 71, Moscow with 68 (though its share of billionaires has been declining recently), Hong Kong with 64, and L.A. with 51. London (50), Beijing (46), Mumbai (33), Miami (31), and Istanbul (30) round out the top ten. All together, four of the top ten metros and six of the top 20 are located in the U.S. Metros in the U.S. and Asia (especially China) have the largest shares of self-made wealth, while those in Europe and South America have more inherited wealth.  

(Isabel Ritchie)

This second map charts the leading cities for wealth held by billionaires. Again, New York tops the list with $537 billion, or 7.6 percent of all global billionaire wealth, and San Francisco comes in second with $365 billion, or 5.2 percent. Rounding out the top five are Moscow ($290 billion or 4.1 percent), Hong Kong ($274 billion or 3.9 percent), and London ($213 billion or 3 percent). Los Angeles drops down to sixth ($175 billion, 2.5 percent), and Beijing stays in seventh ($171 billion, 2.4 percent). Paris ($167 billion, 2.4 percent), Seattle ($164 billion, 2.3 percent), and Dallas ($156 billion, 2.2 percent) complete the top 10. This time, the U.S. has five metros in the top ten and nine in the top 20.

Metro Total Billionaire Wealth (billions) Share of Global Billionaire Wealth
New York $537 7.6%
San Francisco Bay Area $365 5.2%
Moscow $290 4.1%
Hong Kong $274 3.9%
London $213 3.0%
Los Angeles $175 2.5%
Beijing $171 2.4%
Paris $167 2.4%
Seattle $164 2.3%
Dallas $156 2.2%
Mumbai $139 2.0%
Mexico City $131 1.9%
Sao Paulo $113 1.6%
Miami $94 1.3%
Bentonville, Arkansas $80 1.1%
Omaha, Nebraska $76 1.1%
Seoul $76 1.1%
Tokyo $74 1.1%
La Coruña, Spain $73 1.0%
Jackson, Wyoming $70 1.0%

Smaller cities rise to the very top of the list when we consider the average net wealth of billionaires. Bentonville, Arkansas (home to two members of the Walton family, who own and control Walmart) tops the list of smaller cities with the highest average billionaire net worth, just shy of $40 billion. Next is Omaha, Nebraska (home to Warren Buffett) with $38.2 billion, followed by Big Horn, Wyoming, with $26.6 billion thanks to the candy scion Forrest Mars, Jr. La Coruña, Spain, is fourth and Jackson, Wyoming, is fifth.

Billionaire industries

The number-one global industry for billionaire wealth is fashion and retail, with over $1 trillion, or more than 15 percent of total billionaire wealth—topping finance, tech, and oil and natural resources. Technology is second, with $989 billion or 14 percent of the total, followed closely by finance and investment in third with $962 billion. Resources (i.e. oil, energy, metals, and mining) is fourth with $623 billion, and automotive and manufacturing is fifth with $561 billion. Ultimately, the top four industries account for more than half of the world’s billionaires, and the top five account for 60 percent.  

Industry Total Billionaire Wealth (billions) Share of Total Billionaire Wealth
Fashion and Retail $1,100 15.6%
Technology and Telecom $989 14.0%
Finance and Investment $962 13.6%
Resources (Oil, Energy, Metals, and Mining) $623 8.8%
Automotive and Manufacturing $561 7.9%
Food and Beverage $542 7.7%
Diversified $539 7.6%
Real Estate $526 7.5%
Media $355 5.0%
Medicine and Healthcare $308 4.4%

In many cases, the wealth of billionaires is closely linked to the places they live. Milan tops the list for fashion and retail, followed by New York, Paris, and London—all well-established fashion capitals. San Francisco tops the list for tech, followed by Beijing, L.A., Bangalore, Seoul, Shenzhen, and Seattle. New York tops the list for finance and investment, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, Moscow, Los Angeles, and Miami.

The super-rich and everyone else

The gap between billionaires and a city’s remaining residents is staggering, according to our measure of the Super Rich Wealth Gap, which compares billionaire wealth to the economic situation of the average person based on economic output per person. This gap is most pronounced in poorer or less-developed cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Mexico City, Manila, Jakarta, Delhi, Bangkok, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Santiago. But it is also quite pronounced in more advanced cities such as Seattle, Dallas, Paris, Stockholm, Toronto, and Tokyo.

(Isabel Ritchie)

Defining billionaire cities

What factors differentiate the cities of the super-rich? To get at this, we ran a basic correlation analysis comparing the number of billionaires and their total wealth to key characteristics of global metros, such population size, density, economic output, and productivity. As usual, we note that correlation does not equal causation, but simply highlights associations between variables.

When it comes to the geographic distribution of billionaires, the size of a city seems to matter most. Metro population is positively correlated with both the number of billionaires (.56) and their net worth (.44). Billionaires are even more closely related to the economic size of cities, with substantial correlations between the economic output of metros and the number of billionaires (.68) and their total wealth (.61). Billionaires are more likely to be found in more competitive cities and leading tech hubs, according to our analysis. That said, some of the world’s most competitive and financially powerful cities actually have fewer billionaires than their economic and financial power would suggest, while some smaller places have more billionaires than their economic size, competitiveness, or financial power might predict.

Ultimately, the geography of the super-rich is highly spiky. The top ten metros account for nearly a third (30.7 percent) of the world’s super-rich, while making up less than two percent of the world’s population. The top twenty account for more than 40 percent (43.5 percent), while making up just 3.5 percent of the world’s population. And the top 50 metros account for nearly two-thirds (63.6 percent) of the world’s billionaires, while making up just seven percent of the world’s population. Billionaire fortunes are even spikier. The top ten metros control $2.5 trillion—more than the total GDPs of Brazil, Italy, or India. The top 20 metros account for $3.4 trillion, equivalent to the GDP of Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy. And the top 50 account for almost $5 trillion—equivalent to the world’s third largest economy, after the United States and China.

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