How Many Billionaires Are There in the World?

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- The wealthiest people in the world didn't come by their vast riches through inheritances; they made their money the old-fashioned way: they earned it. Nearly two thirds (65%) of mega-millionaires say their money was self-made, according to the 2013 Wealth-X and UBS World Ultra Wealth Report.

Global wealth is at an all-time high, with 199,235 individuals accounting for a combined fortune of nearly $28 trillion, up 6% in population size from the previous year and adding $2 trillion to their combined wealth - a value greater than the gross domestic product of India.

More than 2,000 billionaires claim a total net worth of $6.5 trillion, representing nearly one-quarter (23%) of the world's ultra high net worth (UHNW) total wealth. The report defines UHNW individuals as those with total net assets of $30 million and above.

Asia rebounded from last year's contraction, when there were 42,895 UHNW individuals in the region. As of 2013, there are 44,505 UHNW individuals in Asia with a combined wealth of $6.5 trillion, an increase of 5.4% from the previous year.

Although the United States and Europe grew faster than Asia in the past 12 months, Asia will produce more UHNW individuals and wealth than both regions in the next five years. The report forecasts that at current growth rates, Asia's ultra wealthy population and total wealth will eclipse that of Europe in 2021 and 2017 respectively. Asia will have a larger UHNW population by 2032 and have a greater total wealth by 2024.

"The report forecasts that Asia will generate more UHNW individuals and wealth than the U.S. and Europe in the next five years," Joseph Poon with UBS Wealth Management said. "This closely mirrors our own observations of the trajectory of wealth creation in Asia. In Asia, the UHNW segment is dominated by entrepreneurs in their first or second generation who are still heavily involved in their family businesses."

The expansion of wealth over the past year was largely due to North America and Europe, with the two regions responsible for a net gain of nearly 10,000 UHNW individuals and a total increase in wealth of $1.5 trillion. But China and Brazil, the fourth and seventh wealthiest nations in the world, saw a reversal of fortune for their richest citizens due to economic slowdowns.

Latin America was the only region to suffer a decline in total wealth, falling by 600 individuals and $75 billion.

According to the report, the global UHNW population continues to be dominated by men, who represent 88% of the total population. Female UHNW individuals make up the remaining 12% or 23,505 individuals globally.

The average net worth of the wealthiest individuals in the world has risen to $139 million.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick