U.S. affluent classes dwarf China and India

LONDON Fri Oct 7, 2011 7:48pm IST

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LONDON (Reuters) - The United States has 10 times more affluent households than China or India, research shows, undermining arguments the global economy can be sustained by consumption in emerging markets.

A survey of affluent households around the world -- defined as having wealth of more than $100,000 -- by research firm TNS found 80 percent of such people live in Western countries.

While the number of affluent households in China and India is 3 million each, the U.S. has more than 31 million, the survey shows.

The results challenge hopes that the boom economies of Asia can supplant an ailing U.S. as the world's consumer of last resort, and keep global growth ticking over.

Reg van Steen, a director of business and finance at TNS, said researchers had to drop the wealth threshold to $40,000 for Brazil to make it possible to find a large-enough sample.

"What really surprises is China has surpassed Germany, France and the UK when it comes to the number of affluent. (But) it will take some time before we really see a shift from West to East," he said.

The number of households with more than $100,000 in liquid assets stands at 2.9 million in the UK, 2.5 million in Germany and 2.7 million in France, the survey of 12,000 people in 24 countries found.

The study also highlights the tiny proportion of overall population taken up by the affluent middle classes in China and India compared with developed countries.

The incidence of affluence in the U.S. is 27 percent, the study shows, 20 percent in Canada and 11 percent in the UK, while the proportion in China is 0.75 percent. India's affluent make up 1.25 percent of the country's population.

A global study of wealth published this year by Merrill Lynch and global consulting firm Capgemini found China has the world's fourth-largest population of millionaires.

However, the top three -- the U.S., Japan and Germany -- account for more than half of the world's millionaires.

(Reporting by Chris Vellacott; Editing by Sinead Cruise and David Hulmes)

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