Here are the 10 countries with the highest wealth inequality:

  1. Netherlands (0.902)
  2. Russia (0.879)
  3. Sweden (0.867)
  4. United States(0.852)
  5. Brazil (0.849)
  6. Thailand (0.846)
  7. Denmark (0.838)
  8. Philippines (0.837)
  9. Saudi Arabia (0.834)
  10. Indonesia (0.833)

Why are the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark among the countries with the largest wealth gaps in the world. This is puzzling especially since they rank much lower in income inequality.

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    The figures look very strange to me - virtually the reciprocal of what I would have expected. Oddly Norway, I note from the text, a country in many ways similar to those quoted has an index of about 0.25. Very odd. Most reports I read suggest that Scandinavia and EU countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands have far higher "equality" than the US or the UK. Certainly one would expect them to be far more "equal" than societies like Saudi Arabia. There seems something wrong here.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 8:36
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    @WS2 note this is the index of wealth inequality and not income inequality. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 8:46
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    If I see a list of all countries in the world sorted by any criteria whatsoever that puts Norway at one end of the list and Sweden on the other, I would seriously doubt the methology of whoever made that list. I can't think of any criteria where Sweden and Norway are so distinct that the entire rest of the world fits somewhere in between. Most certainly not wealth distribution.
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 11:16
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    This is why wealth gap alone is not a good metric about how good life quality in a country is. If country A had 99% of its population on the brink of starvation, and the other 1% rich, but country B had 99% of the population having very good living standards but the other 1% being utterly inconceivably ludicrously rich, then income inequality in country B would be much higher, yet it would still be a much better place to live in.
    – vsz
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 12:21
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    @quarague agree that it's a bit unlikely to be that extreme, but it is true that Norway has something that separates it from Denmark and Sweden here: oil. Denmark and Sweden used to be seen as the posh countries by Norwegians, and that wealth is still there – but concentrated in old heirlooms. But then in the 70s, oil made Norway richer than its neighbours had ever been, and unlike other oil nations they made sure to distribute that wealth quite fairly across the population. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 16:04

2 Answers 2


There's an interesting, if long, paper on that topic. The paper specifically focuses on the Netherlands, but a lot of the arguments are applicable to other modern welfare countries. The authors conclude that:

  • The Netherlands has seen few, if any crisis events that would cause wealth redistribution on a major scale (wars, massive financial crashes) since World War II. The few that did happen seemed to deepen the income inequality even further - the authors bring up the 2008 financial crisis which did little to hurt the valuation of the rich, but caused the lower and middle class to lose a major amount of wealth as their houses - constituting a large chunk of it - sharply dropped in value.
  • The Netherlands has an ultimately regressive tax structure, with income and consumption taxes (which usually affect lower classes, and prevent them from building wealth) being more prominent than wealth taxation, and the wealthy having ample opportunities to hide their wealth offshore.
  • Finally, the argument that probably does most to differentiate those top countries from others is that in countries with a strong social safety net such as the Netherlands, there's both more difficulty and little incentive to accumulate wealth in the first place. Those income and consumption taxes which make it difficult to build savings go into pension funds and free healthcare, which replace the need for individual wealth.
  • 48
    IIRC one of the problems with the stats on the Netherlands is that they don't count our specific pension system as "wealth". This is something that many low-to-mid income people pay a large share of their income into whereas wealthy people are more likely to invest, which counts in this particular statistic. This skews the statistics.
    – Borgh
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 7:57
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 20:05
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    "with income and consumption taxes (which usually affect lower classes, and prevent them from building wealth) being more prominent than wealth taxation" - isn't that the case for an overwhelming majority of countries in the world? Most have income taxes and a vast majority have no wealth tax aside from property and inheritance.
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 1:24
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    @user4012 Rather than just the wealth taxation you also want to look at the preferential tax treatment of capital/financial gains vs employment income. Many apparently left-leaning countries are surprisingly lenient towards taxing money earned by non-salaried means. VAT based taxation is quite efficient, it is also not progressive (in its traditional meaning in this context, not the new cuddly-n-nice one) in the least. Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 17:32
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - I know UK has VAT (and yes by default it is not progressive tax), didn't know about scandinavia
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 18:06

For this admittedly older OECD page:

Inequality of disposable income in the Netherlands is relatively low from international perspective, with a Gini coefficient of 0.28 in 2013, compared with 0.32for the OECD average. Income inequality increased between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s but declined thereafter, also during the years of the recent crisis. The ratio of the income of the top 10% to that of the bottom 10% is also moderate,with a ratio of 6.6, compared with 9.6 on average across OECD countries.


At the same time, inequality is high in the Netherlands when measured in terms of household wealth (property value, savings, private pensions): the top 1% of the distribution owns around 24% of all net wealth and the top 10% owns 60% of all net wealth, while the bottom three quintiles own almost no wealth. The difference in net wealth between the top 5% and the median household, as a share of median wealth, is 44 compared with an OECD average of 20

Perhaps the answer is that there are a lot ways to measure wealth. Assets and disposable income can be very different. Actual personal spending would be another - but that wouldn't include the benefits of intangible public services.

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    Note that "private pensions" in the Netherlands are fairly rare. The bulk of the wealth is held in collective pension funds.
    – MSalters
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 12:35
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    I checked further. After including pension assets, the rich of course become even richer, but the top 10% share of the total wealth decreases from 62% to 47% (CBS, 2018). The poorest 10$ go from -3% (debts) to -1%. That's quite surprising TBH - I had expected that the poorest 10% would not have any private pensions at all.
    – MSalters
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 23:03

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