The numbers seem to back it up. Americans’ average wealth tops $301,000 per adult, enough to rank us fourth on the latest Credit Suisse Global Wealth report.
But that figure doesn’t tell you how the middle class American is doing.
Americans’ median wealth is a mere $44,900 per adult — half have more, half have less. That’s only good enough for 19th place, below Japan, Canada, Australia and much of Western Europe.
“Americans tend to think of their middle class as being the richest in the world, but it turns out, in terms of wealth, they rank fairly low among major industrialized countries,” said Edward Wolff, a New York University economics professor who studies net worth.
Why is there such a big difference between the two measures?
Super rich Americans skew average wealth upwards. The U.S. has 42% of the world’s millionaires, and 49% of those with more than $50 million in assets.
This schism secures us the top rank in one net worth measure — wealth inequality.
There’s one main reason why the average Spaniard or Italian has more to his name than the typical American: real estate.
Home ownership rates are higher in many European countries than in the U.S., giving Joe European more assets to his name than his American counterpart. Plus, it’s easier for Americans to borrow money, which eats away at their net worth, said Jim Davies, an economics professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, and co-author of the Credit Suisse report.