Forbes' billionaire list grows more diverse

What do Algeria, Lithuania, and Colombia have in common? All were represented on Forbes 2014 billionaire list. Though dominated by familiar faces, the list continues to become more diverse as emerging economies grow.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters/File
Founder and chief executive of the Dangote Group Aliko Dangote, seen here in 2012 in his office in Lagos, Nigeria, is the first African to break into Forbes's list of the world's top 25 billionaires.

Perennially wealthy Americans such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg all unsurprisingly claimed spots toward the top of Forbes’ annual billionaires list, released Monday. But with newcomers hailing from countries like Lithuania and Tanzania, 2014 wasn't quite as predictable as years previous.

Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft, remained at the top of the list with a fortune of $76 billion (up $9 billion from 2013), and the US maintained its place at the top of the wealthy, representing the most billionaires on the list. Other regions made strides toward the upper echelons of wealth: the Asia-Pacific region posted 444 billionaires, the youngest billionaire hails from Hong Kong, and for the first time an African made the ranks of the top 25 wealthiest people in the world. The takeaway? Emerging markets are growing stronger, and self-made money rules the top of the financial game.

The United States maintained its status at the top of the financial world with 498 billionaires on the list. China came in second with 152 billionaires and Russia followed with 111. This year an extra 268 billionaires made the list and four countries – Algeria, Lithuania, Tanzania, and Uganda – made their debut. Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman who made his wealth in cement, flour, and sugar, ranked 23rd with a net worth of $25 billion – the first African to crack the top 25.

China and the Asia-Pacific region posted some of the most intriguing numbers. China added 37 new faces to the list, a new record for the rapidly growing country. The youngest billionaire on the list, 24-year-old Perenna Kei, hails from Hong Kong. She owns 85 percent of Logan Property Holdings, giving her a net worth of $1.3 billion. Even including those stellar China numbers, the Asia-Pacific region as a whole had the biggest drop-off of any region, losing 47 off the billionaires list from last year.

Though the list is predominately over 40 and male, younger billionaires and women made notable contributions. Forbes reports that 31 of the 1,645 billionaires on its list are under 40, and only 13 of those are from the US (and five of those are the product of Facebook). Other young billionaires hail from countries ranging from Japan to Colombia to Switzerland, representing a diverse range of industries, everything from social gaming to polymers. There are 172 women on the list, more than ever before, and up 34 from last year. Notable female newcomers include Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Nigerian oil producer Folorunsho Alakija.

One trend was clear: Self-made fortunes are the norm. Over two-thirds of the billionaires on the list are self-made billionaires, while an additional 21 percent added to fortunes they already had.

The rich also appear to be getting richer. The overall net worth of the world’s wealthiest people in 2014 is $6.4 trillion, up $1 trillion from last year.

In this way, the list echoes the widening wealth gap in places with rapidly growing economies. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study from 2011 found that income inequality levels in emerging economies are all significantly higher than the OECD average. This could prove to be an issue: In January, the World Economic Forum reported that its survey of over 700 opinion leaders put the wealth gap as one of the biggest risks to potential conflict in the next decade. 

However, some billionaires drop off the list because of what they give away. Norwegian real estate developer Olav Thon gave a 71 percent stake in his company to his newly created charitable foundation in December. Previously, his fortune was estimated at $5.75 billion.

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