Another day, another stellar global comparison for Australia.

Another day, another stellar global comparison for Australia.

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report has ranked us number one in the world for median adult wealth, like last year and the year before that. What's more, the report predicts Australia will keep top spot on that measure until at least the end of this decade.

But when it comes to average wealth, we're ranked number two behind Switzerland. So which is better – a higher median or a higher average?

A good illustration of the difference between the median and the average is what happens whenever the super-rich Bill Gates arrives at a crowded bar – the average wealth of the crowd soars but the median stays pretty much the same. Gates' arrival drags up the average wealth but does little to change the median – that is the wealth of the middle person if you lined up everyone in the bar from richest to poorest.

That makes the median the best figure for comparing the wealth of regular people in different countries because the number is not skewed by the very rich. 

"In this case the median is a better representation of the typical," Saul Eslake, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says. "The average, or mean, will be distorted by the very high numbers."

The difference between a country's median and average wealth is one rough indicator of how wealth is distributed across the population. The narrower the gap, the more evenly wealth is spread.

In the United States, a country with a relatively high level of inequality, the median adult wealth (US$53,352) was just 15 per cent of the average ($347,845). But that gap was much narrower in Australia, where the median adult wealth (US$225,337) was 52 per cent of the average ($430,777). In fact, the gap between Australia's median and average wealth was the smallest among 15 nations featured in one section of the Credit Suisse report.

Australia's number one world ranking for median adult wealth follows a number two ranking, behind Norway, on a more meaningful measure – the United Nations Human Development Index, which rates countries according to health, education and income. That result puts Australian society at the vanguard of human development.

Australians can also expect to live longer than almost everyone else. The most recent UN data shows life expectancy at birth in Australia has reached 82.5 years – the fourth longest in the world behind Japan (83.6), Hong Kong (83.4) and Switzerland (82.6). Australia's life expectancy at birth is 3.6 years longer than in America, 14.5 years longer than in Russia and more than 30 years longer than in some African countries.

But these achievements haven't yet made us the world's happiest place. The latest World Happiness Report, published by the UN's Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranked Australia 10th.

Source: In the Sydney Morning
Matt Wade: Senior /writer

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