Asia just overtook Europe in wealth for the first time in centuries -- and North America is next

China students chinese flagREUTERS/Aly SongA student takes a picture of his friends in front of the Chinese flag during a graduation ceremony at Fudan University in Shanghai June 28, 2006.

The Asia-Pacific region steamed past Europe in terms of private financial wealth in 2014, according to estimates just released by Boston Consulting Group.

In 2014, BCG estimate that eastern and western Europe combined had a private wealth of $US42.5 trillion, beaten by Asia-Pacific’s rapidly growing pile, now worth $US47.3 trillion. The Asia-Pacific figures exclude Japan, which gets its own estimate.

BCG doesn’t provide a long-run estimate for when the last time Asia-Pacific was likely wealthier than Europe. The report has been produced for 15 years, but given the performance of the two continents throughout history, it’s likely to have been hundreds of years since Asia came out on top.

That goes all the way back to a period in history known as the Great Divergence. During the industrial revolution and even before, European wealth and living standards overtook previously more prosperous Asian civilisations.

Here’s how the distribution looks:

With Asian private wealth growing much more quickly than North American or European wealth, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to keep building on its current position. By 2019, BCG expect Asia to have more than a third of the $US222 trillion global total.

They also expect that Asian financial wealth will surpass the North America’s by 2016 — in fact, including Japan, Asia is already the wealthiest region in the world.

Here’s what BCG’s report says on the global trends:

From a regional, the growth of private wealth continued in most markets in 2014, but at significantly different rates. A strong “old world versus new world” dynamic was observed, with the so-called new world growing at a far faster pace.

Here’s how fast each region grew in 2014, and BCG’s estimate of its total financial wealth.

  • North America: $US50.8 trillion (+5.6%)
  • Asian-Pacific (ex-Japan): $US47.3 trillion (+29%)
  • Western Europe: $US39.6 trillion (+6.6%)
  • Japan: $US14.3 trillion (+2%)
  • Middle East and Africa: $US5.7 trillion (+9.4%)
  • Latin America: $US3.7 trillion (+10.5%)
  • Eastern Europe: $US2.9 trillion (+18.8%)

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