Eight billionaires – all men, six of them American – together own as much wealth as the world's poorest 3.7 billion people, a new report from Oxfam has revealed.
The finding sheds stark light on the scale of inequality across the world, with the figures also revealing that the wealthiest 1% of the population together own more than the remaining 99% combined.
Oxfam's report comes on the first day of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a meeting of political and business leaders, this year themed on "responsive and responsible leadership".
Last year, the charity's analysis found that the world's 62 richest people collectively owned more than the world's poorest 50%, but the charity subsequently received more accurate data on world wealth, allowing it to reveal the divide was even sharper than previously believed.
The eight men who own as much as half the world are: Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Zara founder Amancio Ortega; US investor Warren Buffett; Carlos Slim Helo, owner of Mexican conglomerate Grupo Carso; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison; and businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Collectively, the eight men are worth $426 billion (an average of $51 billion each), while the 3.7 billion poorest people in the world own $409 billion (an average of $111 each).
Several of the billionaires have pledged to give the majority of their wealth to charity, either before or after they die.
“This year’s snapshot of inequality is clearer, more accurate, and more shocking than ever before. It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity," said Oxfam GB chief executive Mark Goldring.
“While 1 in 9 people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become.
“Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics. It’s just not right that top executives take home massive bonuses while workers’ wages are stagnating or that multinationals and millionaires dodge taxes while public services are being cut.”
The charity said the issues of inequality were made worse by people who were already relatively rich taking the bulk of the world's increasing wealth. Between 1988 and 2011, the poorest 10% of the planet got an average $65 pay rise, while the richest 10% got $3,278 each.
The top 1%, meanwhile, received an average of $11,800.
The result is that the world's wealth is hugely concentrated in the hands of the top 1% and 10%, with even people in the top 70-80% of wealth owning just 2.3% of the world's wealth between them – while the top 10% have 89%.
The red bar in the graphic below shows the portion of wealth held by the top 1%.
Oxfam also passed BuzzFeed News data it says tackles criticism of its methodology in previous years. Critics have noted that many people with high incomes who will one day be wealthy may currently show as being in the poorest 10% – take a recently qualified doctor in the US or UK, for example, with few assets but huge student debt. Such a person would appear in the poorest group of the world's population.
However, the additional data appears to show these cases make up a small fraction of the world's poorest 50%, just 1% of whom are from North America, and less than 10% are from Europe – instead it is African nations, plus China and India, making up the overwhelming majority of the group.
The charity is urging leaders at Davos to adopt what it calls a "more human economy", by tackling tax avoidance and evasion, increasing healthcare and education funding, and improving workers' rights and conditions.