Wealth of world’s billionaires grew 20% last year – study reveals

The total wealth of global billionaires grew to US$8.9 trillion in 2017, an increase of more than 19 percent from the previous year, according to a study released Friday by UBS and PwC.

China’s ultra-wealthy are driving that trend, the report said, adding two new billionaires per week last year, and growing at a rate almost double that of the Americas and Europe; in Asia as a whole, three people a week saw their net worth cross the US$1 billion mark.

“Over the past five years (2012–2017), the sum passed by deceased billionaires to beneficiaries has grown by an average of 17% each year, to reach US$117 billion in 2017.

In that year alone, 44 heirs inherited more than a billion dollars each (56 percent Americas, 28 percent EMEA, 16 percent APAC), totaling US$189 billion (the discrepancy with US$117 billion is assumed due to growth of assets in probate and revaluation of assets),” the report said.

But another key demographic is growing. The number of female billionaires grew to 2,158 in 2017, up 9 percent from 1,979 in the previous year. While women still represent a small portion of the total number of billionaires overall — 11 percent — their rise could indicate a steady shift in wealth creation.

Female billionaires – one-tenth of the world’s richest

Asked about the growth of female billionaires, Josef Stadler, head global ultra-high-net-worth at UBS, said: “It’s growing.”

He differentiated between the way male and female billionaires distribute their wealth.

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“They are the same when it comes to creating value, but different when it comes to distributing the value,” Stadler told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Friday. “Women tend to foster family values and want to invest more into the sustainability area, whereas males are more value creators and leave it then to their females or to their officers and family officers or foundation officers to basically give back to society.”

He noted that the number of female billionaires was increasing overall, but highlighted a key cultural distinction between China and the West.

“We see in China entrepreneurial female billionaires,” Stadler said. “Whereas in Europe and the United States there are more females who inherit, but then get into entrepreneurial activities as a result.”

In China, the total share of female billionaires stood at 8 percent last year. In comparison to the portion of billionaire women in Western Europe and the Americas, that number is lower, but represents an increase of 13 percent, higher than that of Europe and America.

Chinese billionaires up 2,200 percent in last dozen years

According to the report, there were just 16 billionaires in China 12 years ago — that number has since grown more than 2,200 percent to 373, with the country now accounting for almost 20 percent of the world’s billionaires.

The study highlights China’s challenge to the U.S. on technological innovation as a major driver of wealth creation. The country is home to three large tech corporations, BaiduAlibaba and Tencent — commonly referred to as the BATs — but also has a number of rapidly-growing start-ups with multi-billion dollar valuations, including ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing and artificial intelligence company SenseTime.

The overwhelming majority — 97 percent — of Chinese billionaires are self-made, the report said, and the county produced 89 billionaire entrepreneurs last year — around three times higher than in the U.S. and the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.