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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): the heart of geography
Where do billionaires live?
What do billionaires do?
Why are many billionaires in Asia and the Middle East?
Why does Africa have so few billionaires?
Is it ok for the rich to keep getting richer?
How do we measure a nation's wealth?
Does having money mean a nice life and happiness?
Who wants to be a billionaire - Assessment

Who wants to be a billionaire? - Where do billionaires live?

Who wants to be a billionaire?

This lesson considers what a billion pounds/dollars represents, which billionaires have we heard of and what the global geography of billionaire wealth looks like.

Key questions

  • What does a billion pounds buy?
  • Who are the celebrity billionaires?
  • Where do most billionaires live?
  • What do global patterns of billionaire wealth look like?

Key Concepts

  • Space
  • Scale

What does a billion pounds buy?

It would pay for the construction of the new Wembley Stadium and three London Eyes – with 10 million pounds change.

Who are celebrity billionaires?

J K Rowling and Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Richard Branson are just a few.  

Where do most billionaires live?

Most billionaires live in the USA, roughly half of the world total. Around a quarter live in Europe, followed by Asia and then the rest of the world. The numbers in Asia are growing rapidly but there are still only a handful of billionaires in Africa. 

What do global patterns of billionaire wealth look like? 

The number of billionaires in a region is not proportional to the size of the population of the region.






So you want to be a billionaire? Do you even know what you can buy if you have a billion pounds? Do you even know how many zeros in a billion?

Have a guess?

There are nine zeros in a billion. The next number after the figures 999,999,999 and before 1,000,000,001 is 1,000,000,000. It is known as a billion.

Now you know that, you might want to think about shopping and what you could buy

Look at the What does a billion pounds buy? download. Do you know what a billion pounds buys?

The rest of the module discusses DOLLAR billions – this should be emphasised at the outset. At the time of writing the exchange rate is US$ 2 to UK £1. This makes comparisons easy but as currencies fluctuate you need to check the exchange at Reuters Currencies.



So you know what you can buy for a billion pounds now but do not go mad, you are not billionaires just yet.

Do you know any billionaires? Actually, you probably do.

See if you can guess who they are by downloading Celebrity Billionaire Guess Who and guessing the mystery celebrity billionaires. Discuss in your group or in pairs what you know about these people and how they may have made their money? 

Why are some of these billionaires better known than others? Why are some even richer than others? 

It is not surprising that you don’t know many. There are around 1000 billionaires in the world in 2007 and the number is going up all the time so you may know one or be related to one soon.

Where do billionaires live?

Geographers like to see things, including billionaires, in terms of how they are distributed in space. Use the Where do billionaires most live interactive to look at the spatial distribution of billionaires in different world regions. This includes a choropleth map.

Is the spatial distribution of billionaires related to population size?

From mapping like this we can get a clue as the vast disparities in levels of wealth at different scales, between people and between regions and btween nations. We can then describe these patterns of inequality.

As well as looking at choropleth maps another very intuitive way of looking at distribution of wealth is by looking at equal-area cartograms. The cartogram resizes each territory according to what is being mapped. Look at the cartogram for Wealth in 2002. How does it compare to that you know about billionaires in the world?

Cartogram for wealth in 2002

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each way of displaying this information? Think about scale: Are some nations (Russia, Brazil and China) are so large that it might be better to divide them into regions to better show how wealth is unevenly spread?  



Download the top 100 billionaires.

Can you identify the world's richest woman and the youngest top 100 billionaire?

Download a world outline map and make your own map of the top 100 billionaires using the list. This could be a choropleth or a pictogram such as the interactive map (piles of coins showing the number of billionaires in each region and shading)

You will need to devise a key and add it to your map.

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