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Is Singapore Rich? Here’s How Wealthy Singaporeans Are Compared to the Rest of the World

profileJoel Koh

Feeling rich?

Well, if you are living in Singapore, you should be.

Source: Giphy

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2021, published in June 2021, Singapore is the tenth richest country in the world, with an average wealth per adult of S$455,930 (US$333,112) as of end-2020.

This amount has grown more than threefold since 2000 as the average wealth per adult in Singapore then was just $158,141 (US$114,720).

However, the median wealth per adult of S$118,754 (US$86,764) puts Singapore in the twentieth richest country in the world.

In an absolute sense, people in Singapore are richer than the majority of the other countries in the world.

But, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Here is what you need to know!


TL;DR: How Wealthy Are Singaporeans

RankCountryMedian Wealth Per Adult (SGD)
2020Change 2019–20
1Australia$326,013$44,204
2Belgium$315,715$48,381
3Hong Kong SAR$237,961—$14,447
4New Zealand$235,016$9,832
5Denmark$226,800$23,252
6Switzerland$200,932$19,295
7Netherlands$186,389$23,115
8France$182,897$9,709
9United Kingdom$180,103$11,092
10Canada$172,120$15,515
11Japan$168,409$10,449
12Italy$162,794$13,557
13Norway$161,315$2,561
14Spain$144,924$10,900
15Ireland$135,612$6,792
16Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)$127,409$8,025
17Austria$125,752$12,078
18Sweden$123,041$21,595
19Korea$122,794$11,188
20Singapore$118,754$9,120

Source: James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2021 | Median Wealth Per Adult


Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2021 Methodology

Before we begin, you must know how this report was put together.

Net worth, or “wealth,” is defined as the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts.

This corresponds to the balance sheet that a household might draw up, listing the items which are owned, and their net value if sold. Private pension fund assets are included, but not entitlements to state pensions. Human capital is excluded altogether, along with assets and debts owned by the state (which cannot easily be assigned to individuals).

Valuations are usually expressed in terms of US dollars using end-period exchange rates, but “smoothed exchange rates” are sometimes used to control for short-term fluctuations in exchange rates. The figures for all years refer to year-end values.

For convenience, we disregard the relatively small amount of wealth owned by children on their own account and frame our results in terms of the global adult population, which totalled 5.2 billion in 2020.

Keep this in mind as you read the article.

How Rich Are Singaporeans?

Here are the statistics.

Average (Mean) Wealth Per Adult Singapore

RankCountryMean Wealth Per Adult (SGD)
2020Change 2019–20
1Switzerland$922,786$96,844
2United States$692,021$57,329
3Hong Kong SAR$689,173—$36,174
4Australia$662,364$89,957
5Netherlands$516,312$63,025
6Denmark$514,915$53,057
7Belgium$481,041$73,978
8New Zealand$476,755$20,744
9Sweden$460,284$75,936
10Singapore$455,930$34,860
11Canada$455,013$39,803
12France$409,884$22,962
13United Kingdom$398,095$27,658
14Austria$397,547$39,420
15Norway$377,735$2,232
16Germany$367,877$55,385
17Ireland$364,413$17,047
18Japan$351,337$23,468
19Italy$327,567$27,918
20Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)$327,047$20,908

Source: James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2021

Median Wealth Per Adult Singapore

RankCountryMedian Wealth Per Adult (SGD)
2020Change 2019–20
1Australia$326,013$44,204
2Belgium$315,715$48,381
3Hong Kong SAR$237,961—$14,447
4New Zealand$235,016$9,832
5Denmark$226,800$23,252
6Switzerland$200,932$19,295
7Netherlands$186,389$23,115
8France$182,897$9,709
9United Kingdom$180,103$11,092
10Canada$172,120$15,515
11Japan$168,409$10,449
12Italy$162,794$13,557
13Norway$161,315$2,561
14Spain$144,924$10,900
15Ireland$135,612$6,792
16Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)$127,409$8,025
17Austria$125,752$12,078
18Sweden$123,041$21,595
19Korea$122,794$11,188
20Singapore$118,754$9,120

Source: James Davies, Rodrigo Lluberas and Anthony Shorrocks, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2021

Our focus should be on the median wealth per adult as the median is the middle value and a superior measure of the norm.

Unlike the mean, the highest values and lowest values do not skew the median as much.

According to Credit Suisse, this is relevant as the top 1% of the wealthiest people in Singapore own about 33.9% of the wealth at the end of 2020. 

Source: Giphy

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the average and median wealth per adult in Singapore has increased.

But unfortunately, for the median wealth per adult, Singapore has fallen ten places to position number 20 and was replaced by France, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Breakdown of Household Wealth in Singapore

Financial assets account for over half of personal wealth in Singapore from 58.5% per cent of gross assets in Singapore at the end of 2020.

Here is a further breakdown according to the Singapore Department of Statistics’ Household Sector Balance Sheet (Assets) for the First Quarter (Q1) 2021.

Why Don’t We Feel Rich in Singapore?

So here is the million-dollar question.

Why don’t we feel rich in Singapore?

Well, I would boil it down to three main factors.

Wealth Inequality in Singapore

Firstly, wealth inequality in Singapore is a thing.

Macroeconomic indicators
JapanKoreaSingaporeTaiwan (Chinese Taipei)
Population126 million51 million6 million24 million
Adult population105 million42 million5 million20 million
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)US$46,812 per adultUS$37,340 per adultUS$69,049 per adultUS$32,371 per adult
Mean wealthUS$256,596 per adultUS$211,369 per adultUS332,995 per adult238,862
Median wealthUS$122,980 per adultUS$89,671 per adultUS$86,717 per adultUS$93,044 per adult
Total wealthUS$26.9 trillionUS$9 trillionUS$1.6 trillionUS$4.7 trillion
US dollar millionaires3,662,0001,051,000270,000609,000
Belong to the top 10% of global wealth holders50,576,00017,441,0001,828,0007,657,000
Belong to the top 1% of global wealth holders3,327,000966,000250,000563,000
Wealth inequality (Gini Index)64.467.678.370.8

Compared to other Asian countries like Japan, Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), with 2020 wealth Gini coefficients of 64.4, 67.6, and 70.8, respectively, Singapore’s 2020 wealth Gini coefficient is much higher at 78.3.

As for the amount of wealth that the top 1% hold, Japan’s top 1% held 18.2% of the wealth, Korea’s top 1% held 23.6% of the wealth, while Taiwan’s top 1% (Chinese Taipei) owns 27.7% of the wealth at the end of 2020.

In contrast, Singapore’s top 1% owns about 33.9% of the wealth at the end of 2020.

If you are wondering why there is this discrepancy, the relatively hefty inheritance taxes that Korea and Japan have played a part.

As Singapore is small in size, the higher wealth inequality can be attributed to a small, unrepresentative group of high net-worth individuals (HNW).

But on balance, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in response to questions from Singaporeans at the post-Budget 2021 (via CNA) forum held on Sunday (21 Feb 21), said that:

When we measured inequality last year, it is at a historic low. That came out of massive transfers, because our schemes were tilted towards supporting our lower income group.

In addition, the Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS) said that:

resident households received S$6,308 per household member on average from various Government schemes in 2020, which was higher than the S$4,684 received the year before.

Although wealth inequality is a problem in Singapore, the Government is aware of it and is working to address it.

High Cost of Living in Singapore (For Expatriates)

Not to mention the high cost of living in Singapore.

According to the yearly Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Worldwide Cost of Living Surveys, Singapore was the most expensive city to live in from 2014-2019.

But in 2020, the trend was broken with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic as Singapore fell three places to fourth place:

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) | Worldwide Cost of Living 2020

But here’s the thing, the survey is geared towards expatriates with a more atas (Malay for expensive) consumption basket:

Source: Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore

 

 

Also, the survey does not consider the various grants and subsidies given primarily to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who earn less.

Safe to say, I think we do not feel rich in Singapore as the cost of living for expatriates (read: more atas lifestyle) is much higher.

Sure, you can get more value for money options, but the expensive things are a whole lot more expensive.

Wealth on Paper Financial Independence

So here’s the thing.

Even if you are a professional with one of the highest paying jobs in Singapore:

and a sizeable amount of funds and investments set aside for retirement, your net worth can take a hit if your expenditure is high and you lose your job.

This is probably why even those earning quite a bit don’t feel rich, as losing their job could mean that their lifestyle might be in jeopardy.

To be truly wealthy, you should be financially independent.

LevelStageDefinition
5Financial FreedomYour passive income from wealth assets cover current living expenses + your life goals
4FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCEYour passive income from wealth assets cover current living expenses
3Financial SecurityYour passive income from wealth assets covers basic living needs (water, utilities, bills)
2Financial StabilityYou have emergency fund savings of 6 months
1Financial DependencceDebt Payments consume you, and is more than your own Income

Being too dependent on your job for income can lead to feelings of financial insecurity, which the rich do not have to worry about.

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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. My time as a history student has equipped me with the skills to evaluate the impact societal development has on financial and nonfinancial events.
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