The incredible wealth that a few individuals hold is quite impressive, but what is surprising is that most of those people with the greatest wealth are men. Female billionaires are scarce compared to male billionaires, and women are even missing from the self-made billionaires category (only three percent were women this year). This is a potential problem for several reasons. According to Caroline Freund and Sarah Oliver of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, the lack of extreme female wealth in comparison to male wealth is a problem because of the potential for social injustice and because of discrimination. Although rarely talked of, there is the potential for this issue to be a worldwide issue, because women make up a very small percentage of billionaires across the world.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 the median earnings of full-time working women were 77 percent of that for men working full-time. Although this isn’t a surprising statistic, as the trend has been similar for many years, it’s important to note that women are consistently making less than men overall, in addition to the very top earners.
Women represented just over ten percent of Forbes‘ list of world billionaires (172 women out of 1,645 billionaires), which is actually an increase from the 138 on the list the year before. Although the statistics suggest that more women are becoming billionaires, the overall percentage is very small. Spanx founder Sara Blakely, as well as Oprah Winfrey, are two of the more well-known billionaires.
The percentage of female billionaires is relatively small in most parts of the world. According to Freund and Oliver, Chili, Switzerland, and Sweden appear to have a relatively high share of female billionaires (33.3, 33.3, 26.3). In Japan, the female share of billionaires is only 3.7 percent, in Canada it’s 3.1, and in Russia, only 0.9 percent; Egypt and Malaysia reported no female share of billionaires. Although some of these nations arguably offer more opportunities to women than others do, the fact is that there are few female billionaires in most countries.