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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Changes in the Distribution of Wealth Between 1989 and 2004

Tom Bozzo of Marginal Utility let me know about this Fed report on changes in the distribution of wealth and net worth from 1989 to 2004. Here's the abstract plus several graphs constructed from tables in the report. The first graph shows, for example, that the percentage of net worth held by the bottom half of the distribution was 2.5% (see table 5 in the report):

Currents and Undercurrents: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth, 1989–2004, by Arthur B. Kennickell Senior Economist and Project Director, Survey of Consumer Finances, Federal Reserve Board: Abstract This paper considers changes in the distribution of the wealth of U.S. families over the 1989–2004 period ... Real net worth grew broadly over this period. At the same time, there are indications that wealth became more concentrated, but the result does not hold unambiguously across a set of plausible measures. ... Graphical analysis suggests that there was a shift in favor of the top of the distribution, while for the broad middle of the distribution increases were about in proportion to earlier wealth. Within this period, there are other interesting patterns. For example, from 1992 to 2004 the wealth share of the least wealthy half of the population fell significantly to 2.5 percent of total wealth. ... The paper also presents some information on underlying factors that may explain a part of the distribution of wealth, including capital gains, saving behavior and income, inheritances, and other factors. There are two special topic sections in the paper. The first presents information on the distributions of wealth of African American and Hispanic families. The second presents information on the use of debt across the distribution of wealth.

As a sample of what's in the report, here are some of the tables in graphical form. First, here's a picture of the proportion of total net worth held by net worth percentile groups. This shows, for example, that the percentage of net worth held by people in the 99th-100th percentile group is slightly larger than the percentage held by the 50th-90th percentile group (click on graphs to bring up larger versions):


Next, this is the dollar value of net worth for various percentile groups of the net worth distribution:


Here is the percentage distribution of wealth across income classes. There are two versions, the one in color and one in black and white that shows the changes with better contrast:



Here's a look at the Gini Coefficent:


And finally, the distribution of the age of the family head by wealth (not net worth) group for 1989 and 2004:



The wealthier are older in 2004. There's a lot more in the report, including an analysis of sources in the changes in the wealth and net worth distributions. The paper looks at changes in capital gains, saving behavior, income, inheritances, debt, demographics, and other factors to explain shifts in the wealth and net worth distributions and finds that income, saving behavior, capital gains, and inheritances all play a role in the explanation.

    Posted by on Thursday, April 6, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (6)


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