Historical Perspective
The Historical Perspective pages are intended to provide you with background information and key lessons about personal wealth creation, including the return on various asset classes and the cost of different borrowing instruments

Ranking, the Rich, and the "Mega-Rich"

Wealth Accumulation / Savings

US Household Wealth

Real Estate

Stocks and other Financial Assets

Debt and Borrowing

 

Ranking, the Rich, and the Mega-Rich
Graph 1: The Distribution of US Household Wealth is Highly Uneven
Whats Going On Here?
  • The wealth distribution in the US is highly uneven, with the wealthiest holding the overwhelming majority of all assets.
  • The graph shows that the top 1% wealthiest US households own 32.7% of the total US household wealth and that the top 5% hold well over half of all the household wealth.
  • Likewise, the graph shows that the top 10% wealthiest households collectively own 70% of all household wealth, i.e., that the bottom 90% hold only 30% of total household wealth.
  • The wealth distribution in the US has historically been highly uneven, so the 15-year period covered by the five Surveys of Consumer Finances (see graph above) is not unique.
Graph 2: Over the long run the “Trickle-down effect” works.
Whats Going On Here?
  • Helped by the strong overall creation of wealth in the US, the absolute amount of net worth for each wealth bracket has increased over time, even if the relative share of wealth continues to be distributed very unevenly in favor of the rich.
  • About 1/3 of US household had a net worth of less than $50,000 (red plus orange bars in Graph) as of year-end 2005. About 18% had a net worth of less than $5,000 (red bars in the graph).
  • From 1965 to 2005 the portion of US households having a net worth in excess of $100,000 grew from 30% to nearly 50%.
  • The portion of US Households reaching the “Million Dollar Club” grew from a mere 1% in 1965 to an estimated 9% as of year-end 2005.
  • Similarly, the portion of households with a net worth in excess of $250,000 grew from 6% to about 33% during the 40-year period from 1965 to 2005.
  • Considering that the US population grew by over 100 million (from 194 million to 296 million) during the period 1965 to 2005, the number of family members living in a household with a net worth of more than $250,000 increased nearly 10-fold from about 11.6 million in 1965 to nearly 100 million today.
Lessons
  • While it may be true that the rich get richer, this graph shows that the poor are getting richer too. The downwards sloping dividers between wealth brackets demonstrate that the “trickle-down effect” does work in the long run and that the United States gets richer as a whole, not just as a few wealth individuals.