Britons least likely to get a windfall

New study suggests people in UK inherit less than anyone else in the developed world

Roger Dobson
Sunday 17 March 2013 01:00
Gina Rinehart, the mining tycoon, inherited her wealth, valued at £11bn
Gina Rinehart, the mining tycoon, inherited her wealth, valued at £11bn

You can stop worrying about whether your parents are SKIs – spending the kids' inheritance.

The odds are, they're not going to leave very much anyway: people in the UK are among the least likely in the developed world to inherit wealth from their relatives.

New research shows that men and women in Italy are nearly three times more likely to have had gifts or bequests or other forms of inheritance in the last two years. Only people in Austria were less likely to have been given wealth by relatives or friends worth more than €5,000, according to the household wealth study based on people aged over 50 in 16 countries.

The "Ways to Richness" study, which compared acquisitions of wealth in 16 countries, also showed that the UK was near the bottom in income – nearly one-third that of Switzerland. But it came out near the top for average wealth, when other assets – mainly homes – were included, although this did not take into account mortgage debt.

The study looked in detail at the accumulation of household wealth in the countries. It takes into account wages, savings and investments, as well as intergenerational support, inheritance and bequests and capital assets.

The researchers calculate that over a two-year period, only 4.4 per cent of people aged over 50 in the UK get gifts or bequests worth around €5,000. That compares to 13 per cent in the Netherlands, 12 per cent in France and Greece, 11 per cent in Italy and Germany, 9 per cent in Belgium, 8 per cent in Spain, and 6 per cent in Israel. Austria came at the bottom with 2 per cent.

The researchers also looked at what they call non-asset income – money from employment, self-employment, pension, and investments. Results show that household net income in the UK was €17,063, compared to €48,073 in Switzerland. Only Poland, with €11,404, and the Czech Republic with €14,640, were lower than the UK.

But when total net worth was calculated, which included homes, the UK, with high rates of home ownership, was near the top, with a worth of £163,000, compared to a high of €205,000 in Belgium, and a low of €39,000 in Poland.

"For many families, wealth is accumulated for a long period if not for generations," said Dr Moshe Semyonov who led the study at Tel Aviv University.

"Wealth is also transmitted from one generation to another in the forms of gifts and bequests. The reasons why intergenerational transfers are relatively low in the UK are not really known. It might be associated with the culture or tradition or with tax laws re inheritance or gifts."

Britons are unlikely, then, to find themselves in the position of the world's second-richest woman, the Australian mining tycoon Gina Rinehart, who inherited a fortune now estimated to be worth £11bn.

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