That’s one of the takeaways from a new report by the study branch of consultants McKinsey & Co. that reviews the national balance sheets of ten countries representing more than 60% of world income.
“We are now wealthier than we have ever been,” Jan Mischke, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute in Zurich, said in an interview.
According to the study, net worth worldwide increased to $514 trillion in 2020, from $156 trillion in 2000. China accounted for almost one-third of the increase. Its wealth jumped to $120 trillion from only $7 trillion in 2000, the year before it joined the World Trade Organization, advancing its economic ascent.
The U.S., held back by more muted increases in property prices, saw its net worth more than double over the period, to $90 trillion.
In both countries -- the world’s largest economies -- more than two-thirds of the wealth is held by the richest 10% of households, and their share has been increasing, the report said.
As estimated by McKinsey, 68% of global net worth lies in real estate. The balance is held in infrastructure, machinery, and equipment and, to a much lesser extent, so-called intangibles like intellectual property and patents.
Financial assets are not included in the global wealth calculations because liabilities effectively offset them: A corporate bond held by an individual investor, for example, represents an I.O.U. by that company.
The sheer growth in net worth over the past two decades has exceeded the increase in global gross domestic product and has been fed by inflating property prices pumped up by declining interest rates, according to McKinsey. It found that asset prices are almost 50% above their long-run average relevant to income. That raises issues about the sustainability of the wealth boom.
“Net worth via price increases above and beyond inflation is questionable in so many ways,” Mischke said. “It comes with all kinds of side effects.”
Mounting real-estate values can make homeownership unaffordable for many people and raise the risk of a financial crisis -- like the one that hit the U.S. in 2008 after a housing bubble burst. China could run into similar trouble over the debt of property developers like the China Evergrande Group.
According to the report, the ideal resolution would be for the world’s wealth to find its way into more productive investments that expand global G.D.P. The nightmare situation would be a fall in asset prices that could delete as much as one-third of global wealth, bringing it more in line with world income.