THE SIZE DISTRIBUTION OF HOUSEHOLD DISPOSABLE WEALTH IN THE UNITED STATES

Edward N. Wolff

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    In this study, new estimates are presented of the size distribution of household wealth in the U.S. in 1969. Compared to previous studies, its major advance is the inclusion of all marketable or discretionary household assets and liabilities and their alignment with national balance sheet totals. Household disposable wealth (HDW) is defined as the sum of all marketable or fungible assets held by households less liabilities. The Gini coefficient for HDW is 0.72, the share held by the richest one percent of households is 31 percent, and the share held by the top five percent is 49 percent. There is, however, a large variation in the concentration of different household assets. The Gini coefficient is 0.30 for household durables and inventories, 0.69 for equity in owner‐occupied housing, 0.94 for bonds and securities, and 0.98 for corporate stock. HDW is then divided into two mutually exclusive components. The first, called “life‐cycle wealth,” is defined as the sum of equity in owner‐occupied housing, durables, household inventory, demand deposits and currency, and the cash value of life insurance and pensions less consumer debt. This form of wealth tends to be accumulated over the life‐cycle for either consumption, liquidity, or retirement purposes. The second, called “capital wealth,” is the sum of time and savings deposits, bonds and securities, corporate stock, business and investment real estate equity, and trust fund equity. Life‐cycle wealth is substantially less concentrated than capital wealth. The Gini coefficient for it is 0.59, while that for capital wealth is 0.88. Moreover, among the lower wealth groups, over 80 percent of household wealth takes the form of life‐cycle wealth, whereas among the top wealth groups the proportion is under 20 percent. The results suggest substantially different savings motivations between the two groups.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)125-146
    Number of pages22
    JournalReview of Income and Wealth
    Volume29
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jun 1983

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics

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