A Rolling Tide: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth in The U.S., 1989-2001

53 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2003

See all articles by Arthur B. Kennickell

Arthur B. Kennickell

Federal Reserve Board - Department of Research & Statistics

Date Written: November 2003


From 1989 to 2001, wealth in real terms increased overall among U.S. families. But characterizing distributional changes is much more complex; it depends on the specific questions asked. For example, there is evidence both from Forbes data on the 400 wealthiest Americans and from the SCF, which explicitly excludes families in the Forbes list, that wealth grew relatively strongly at the very top of the distribution. At the same time, the share of total household wealth held by the Forbes group rose. However, while the point estimate of the share of total wealth held by the wealthiest 1 percent of families, as measured by the SCF, also rose, the change is not statistically significant. In 2001, the division of wealth observed in the SCF attributed about a third each to the wealthiest 1 percent, the next wealthiest 9 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the population. The paper decomposes wealth holdings and distributional shifts in a variety of other ways. Particular attention is given to families with negative net worth, families of older baby boomers, and African American families.

Keywords: wealth distribution, household finances, portfolio choice

JEL Classification: D31

Suggested Citation

Kennickell, Arthur B., A Rolling Tide: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth in The U.S., 1989-2001 (November 2003). FEDS Working Paper No. 2003-24; Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No. 393. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=427720 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.427720

Arthur B. Kennickell (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Board - Department of Research & Statistics ( email )

20th & C. St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20551
United States
202-452-2247 (Phone)
202-452-5295 (Fax)

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