Women Make Huge Gains: The Changing Faces Of Billionaires

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Women Make Huge Gains: The Changing Faces Of Billionaires by PwC

Introduction: The Changing Faces Of Billionaires

Welcome to the UBS/PwC report on Billionaires: The changing faces of billionaires, which reveals the evolving identity of the world’s billionaires over the last two decades. Not only has the billionaire population become more diverse in terms of age, sex and nationality through the emergence of new billionaires and inter-generational wealth transfer, but maintaining the “billionaire” status is a significant challenge.

Building on our original Billionaire report, which analyzed wealth creation, preservation and philanthropy, this report takes a deeper look at today’s billionaire population. Looking back 20 years, we surveyed 1,300 people in the 14 markets that account for 75% of global billionaire wealth and compiled a comprehensive database on the world’s billionaire population. Over this time period, female billionaires outpaced their male peers, with their ranks and wealth growing at faster rates. In Asia, where this growth is most impressive, over half of the female billionaire population is self-made, well ahead of their US and European counterparts.

Over the last two decades, global GDP has almost tripled from $30 trillion to over $77 trillion. But the wealth of billionaires in our study has increased almost eight-fold, from $0.7 trillion in 1995 to $5.4 trillion in 2014.

Just because the amount of money billionaires have accumulated has skyrocketed, however, does not mean that all billionaires benefited. Of the billionaires surveyed in 1995, less than half were still on the list in 2014. Factors contributing to their loss of “billionaire” status include death, dilution and business failure and serve as a reminder of the sometimes fleeting nature of wealth.


In every culture, there is an expression about how wealth can easily disappear. In Italy, it’s ‘from the stable to the stars and back again’ and in Scotland it’s ‘the father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.’ Avoiding the pitfalls in wealth transfer is a priority for many of the billionaires we studied. To preserve wealth over multiple generations, business decisions must move from the family’s kitchen table to the office’s boardroom. With the Baby Boomer generation in the corridor of wealth transfer, the need for careful legacy planning, whether it be philanthropy, intergenerational transfer or a combination of both, is vital.

The wealthy already look less like the West and more like the general population of the world – more women and more diverse, in some cases skewing younger. That trend isn’t going to slow.

Executive Summary

The Athena Factor – Reflecting what we call the Athena Factor, the number of female billionaires is growing, as is their influence as wealth creators and champions of philanthropy. The number of female billionaires grew by a factor 6.6 from 1995 to 2014, and the number of men by a smaller factor of 5.2. While most female billionaires come from the US and Europe, Asia has the greatest growth in number of self-made female billionaires. Over 80% of female billionaires are coming from the US and Europe. More than 50% of Asian female billionaires are self-made, compared to 19% in the US and 7% in Europe.

  • Breaking the mould – Women are wielding greater influence, driving family wealth creation, promoting firm and family governance, and championing philanthropy. Globally, every second female billionaire is an active wealth creator for their families’ businesses: 57% in the US, 63% in Europe and even 96% in Asia.
  • Volatility of wealth – Just 44% of 1995’s class of billionaires remained in this bracket of great wealth in 2014, showing the volatility of billionaire fortunes. Illustrating how fortunes fluctuate and the global billionaire population has changed, they represent less than 10% of 2014’s 1,347 billionaires. Death, dilution of wealth and business difficulties account for the precariousness of entrepreneurs’ fortunes. From 1995’s class of 289 billionaires, 66 have died, 24 fortunes have been lost through family dilution and a further 73 have disappeared due to business problems and other reasons.
  • Survive and thrive – Surviving billionaires have boosted their wealth. Since 1995, they have created US$1 trillion of wealth, approximately 21% of that produced by our entire global billionaire population. The growth in their assets has outperformed both equity markets and global GDP, boosting average wealth per billionaire from US$ 2.9 billion in 1995 to US$11 billion today. The three ‘sweet spots’ globally for billionaire wealth are the Consumer & Retail, Technology and Financial Services sectors. However, they vary regionally in line with the structures of local economies. For example, in Europe Industrials is a sweet spot while Real Estate is in Asia.
  • The road to success – There are three ‘moments of truth’ for legacies: economic crises, regulatory and tax challenges, and transitions to the next generation. Our research shows that 88% of long-term billionaires entirely or partly kept their initial businesses. If they are to survive, legacies must have the strength and flexibility to respond to regulatory and taxation changes, to maintain robust engines of wealth and to manage family transition issues.
  • Tough decisions ahead – A survival rate of over 40% clearly shows the volatility of great wealth. With the increased complexity of regulations and taxes, building lasting legacies will become even more difficult in the future. We expect multi-generational families in Asia to help themselves through creation of family offices, while US and European family offices will become even more sophisticated to help sustain legacies. Shared identities and common sets of values among large families will become more important. Greater complexity means that greater pragmatism is needed in order to preserve legacies.

The ‘Athena Factor’

Women are taking their place in the elite club of billionaires, both as entrepreneurs in their own right and as leaders of family dynasties. We call this the ‘Athena Factor’, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage and inspiration. In the recent past, they’ve emerged not only as business pioneers but also as the drivers of families’ business and philanthropic legacies.

Breaking the mould

Across the world, the number of female billionaires is rising, as is their influence over great wealth. Compared with 20 years ago, there are more billionaire women today and the power they wield over great wealth has grown. Our research shows the number of female billionaires has grown by a factor of 6.6, from 22 in 1995 to 145 in 2014. By comparison, the number of male billionaires remains far larger at 1,202, but has grown by a relatively smaller factor of 5.2.

Asia: Entrepreneurs blazing the trail

Notably, Asia’s fast-growing, young economies have allowed a small but increasing number of female entrepreneurs to create billion-dollar legacies. In the past 10 years, Asia’s female billionaires have grown by a factor of 8.3, from just three in 2005 to 25 in 2014, versus 2.7 in Europe and 1.7 in the US. Admittedly, this rise is from a very small base but it tells the story of how women have played a part in Asia’s economic rise.

Our research shows that the three leading sectors where these women have made their wealth are: Real Estate, Industrials and Health. Equally, some have inherited from their fathers – the region’s pioneering entrepreneurs. Of these female billionaires, 72% have stuck with their original businesses, while around 24% have expanded into other sectors, taking advantage of Asia’s vibrant economic growth.

Approximately half (52%) of Asia’s female billionaires are first-generation entrepreneurs. They tend to be younger than their female peers elsewhere (an average age of 53 in Asia compares with 59 in the US and 65 in Europe). Some have been educated in Europe or the US, before returning home and implementing western business practices, which complement local business traditions.

One female billionaire relates how the classic Asian pattern of saving hard to pay for a western education, where she gained experience of western business practices, fostered her success. “After working in a factory for some years, I saved sufficient to study abroad and get a degree,” she said. “However, when I came back to my home country it was less the degree but more the knowledge of how to do business in the western world, and how to raise the appropriate financing for my new business idea, that helped.”

Europe and US: Influence and power grow

Within Europe and the US, female billionaires have mostly inherited their wealth (93% have done so in Europe, versus 81% in the US). Notably, almost a fifth (19%) of US female billionaires are self-made, compared with 7% in Europe. This thriving US entrepreneurial culture has caused female billionaire wealth to become far more evenly spread across sectors, as they’ve built businesses in science-based sectors such as Technology and Health Industries.


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