How Much Gold Has Been Mined

Posted on February 15, 2021

The question of how much gold has ever been mined is a complex one. This valuable resource is currently being mined throughout the globe, so the total amount of gold ever mined is continuing to increase. In fact, gold production has been on the rise in recent years.

Evaluating some of the latest estimates regarding the total gold mined in the world will give you a better understanding of the scope of this industry. Though the total amount of gold mined is still growing, this is a limited resource. Treasured across the globe as an asset that investors can add to their portfolios, gold is universally prized as a valuable commodity.

How Much Gold Has Been Mined?

According to the World Gold Council [1], the most recent estimate for all the gold ever mined is 197,576 tonnes. That's the weight of over 33,506 African bush elephants or more than 592 Boeing 747 airliners. If the total amount of gold ever mined was smelted into a cube, it would measure 71.2 feet on each side.

The distribution of this gold includes:

  • Jewelry: 47.0%
  • Private investments: 21.6%
  • Official holdings: 17.2%
  • Other uses: 14.2%

While jewelry is one of the most popular uses for gold, this is far from its only purpose. Gold is also used in aircraft engines, spacecraft, nanotechnology, engineering, communications equipment and more. Its range of high-impact applications is one key factor that maintains gold's value.

Where Has Gold Been Mined?

As you're evaluating how much gold has been mined in the world, you'll find that the vast majority of it has come from just three countries [2]:

  • South Africa
  • China
  • Australia

However, gold mining has taken place on every continent on the globe except Antarctica. In 2019, production volumes shifted, with South Africa falling lower on the list. The top countries for gold production in 2019 were [4]:

  1. China: 383.2 metric tons
  2. Russian Federation: 329.5 metric tons
  3. Australia: 325.1 metric tons
  4. United States: 200.2 metric tons
  5. Canada: 182.9 metric tons
  6. Peru: 143.3 metric tons
  7. Ghana: 142.4 metric tons
  8. South Africa: 118.2 metric tons
  9. Mexico: 11.4 metric tons
  10. Brazil: 106.9 metric tons

The Rate of Mining

Each year, roughly 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes of gold gets mined around the world [1]. The rate of mining has increased through most of history, as mining technology has become more advanced. When you look at how much gold has been mined in history, you'll find that two-thirds of it was mined after 1950 [1]. Gold mine production has increased steadily since 2008, producing [3]:

  • 2008: 2,280 metric tons
  • 2009: 2,460 metric tons
  • 2010: 2,560 metric tons
  • 2011: 2,660 metric tons
  • 2012: 2,690 metric tons
  • 2013: 2,800 metric tons
  • 2014: 2,990 metric tons
  • 2015: 3,100 metric tons
  • 2016: 3,110 metric tons
  • 2017: 3,230 metric tons
  • 2018: 3,300 metric tons

The life cycle of a gold mine is extremely long. [10] It can take 10 to 20 years for a mine to produce material that can be refined, and many prospective sites never reach this point. Less than 0.1% of all prospected sites will yield a productive mine [5]. In fact, 90% of gold deposits are insufficient for mining.

Once it's established that a site is economic to mine, it takes roughly one to five years to develop a mine. An established mine is typically active for 10 to 30 years. There are many factors that will impact how active a mine is and whether it's profitable to mine low-grade ore in the area.

Factors that impact mining production include:

  • The price of gold Low-grade ore can still yield a profit if gold prices are high.
  • Input costs If the input cost of mine production is high, it may only be profitable to mine high-grade ore.
  • Physical demand for gold A high demand for gold products, typically coming from India and China, will drive increased production. [6]
  • Mine supply The availability of gold in a mine will drive production.

How Much Gold Is Left?

It's estimated that the total world gold supply still has about 54,000 tonnes of gold yet to be mined [1]. This equates to less than 28% of how much gold has been found already. In the earth's crust, gold is believed to comprise four parts per billion [7].

Some scientists believe that gold production hit its peak in 2019. Chairman of Goldcorp Ian Telfer told the Financial Post that 'I don't think there are any more mines out there, or nothing significant. And the exploration records indicate that.' [8] A lack of new discoveries in recent years supports the hypothesis that most, if not all, major gold deposits have been discovered, with the remainder of the world's gold hiding in smaller deposits that aren't economic to mine.

It's nearly impossible to destroy gold, so the majority of the gold that's been mined will remain available throughout the future. However, in some applications, gold is used in such small amounts that it's not feasible to recycle it.

Though the price of gold fluctuates, this metal has been prized as a valuable resource throughout history. Gold was minted into valuable coins as early as 520 BCE when the Achaemenid Persian Empire made the Persian daric [9]; but we've come a long way with gold mining technology and applications since the Persian Empire.

With gold mining possibly having peaked and now expected to slow, the value of this metal may only increase further. The present might just be an excellent time to invest in gold.

Article Sources

1. World Gold Council. 'How much gold has been mined?,' https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/gold-mining/how-much-gold. Accessed August 7, 2020.

2. USGS. 'How much gold has been found in the world?,' https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-much-gold-has-been-found-world?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products. Accessed August 7, 2020.

3. Statista. 'Gold mine production worldwide from 2005 to 2019,' https://www.statista.com/statistics/238414/global-gold-production-since-2005/. Accessed August 7, 2020.

4. World Gold Council. 'Gold mine production,' https://www.gold.org/goldhub/data/historical-mine-production. Accessed August 7, 2020.

5. Wold Gold Council. 'Gold Mine Exploration: 1-10 years,' https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/how-gold-is-mined/exploration. Accessed August 7, 2020.

6. ETF. 'Structure Matters: Factors That Drive Gold Miners,' https://www.etf.com/sections/features-and-news/structure-matters-factors-drive-gold-miners. Accessed August 7, 2020.

7. U.S. Money Reserve. 'How Much Gold Is In the World?,' https://www.usmoneyreserve.com/blog/how-much-gold-is-in-the-world/. Accessed August 7, 2020.

8. MSN. 'The world is running out of GOLD: Mining experts warn discoveries are shrinking,' https://www.msn.com/en-in/money/news/the-world-is-running-out-of-gold-mining-experts-warn-discoveries-are-shrinking/ar-AAA0b4m. Accessed August 7, 2020.

9. Oldest. 'Oldest Coins in the World,' https://www.oldest.org/culture/coins/. Accessed August 7, 2020.

10. World Gold Council. 'How Gold is Mined,' https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/how-gold-is-mined. Accessed August 18, 2020.