Trends in the Distribution of Family Wealth, 1989 to 2019
CBO examines changes in the distribution of family wealth from 1989 to 2019 and analyzes those changes in relation to several family characteristics. In addition, the agency examines how total family wealth has changed since 2019.
Building on earlier work by the Congressional Budget Office, this report examines changes in the distribution of family wealth (a family’s assets minus its debts) from 1989 to 2019 and analyzes those changes in relation to several family characteristics—income, level of education, race and ethnicity, age, and birth cohort. In addition, the report examines how total family wealth has changed since 2019.
Total Wealth. The total real wealth (that is, wealth adjusted to remove the effects of inflation) held by families in the United States tripled from 1989 to 2019—from $38 trillion in 2019 dollars (roughly four times the nation’s gross domestic product, or GDP) to $115 trillion (about five times GDP).
Concentration of Wealth. The growth of real wealth over the past three decades was not uniform: Family wealth increased more in the top half of the distribution than in the bottom half. Families in the top 10 percent and in the top 1 percent of the distribution, in particular, saw their share of total wealth rise over the period. In 2019, families in the top 10 percent of the distribution held 72 percent of total wealth, and families in the top 1 percent of the distribution held more than one-third; families in the bottom half of the distribution held only 2 percent of total wealth.
Trends by Family Characteristics. Over the 30-year period, the median wealth of families in higher-income groups, families with more education, and older families rose faster than that of families with less income, families with less education, and younger families. The median wealth of White families exceeded that of families in other racial and ethnic groups by considerable amounts throughout the period. The median wealth of every cohort born since 1950 was less than the preceding cohort’s median wealth when that cohort was the same age.
Trends Since 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, total family wealth declined as a result of the disruption in economic activities caused by the coronavirus pandemic. By the end of the second quarter of 2020, total family wealth had recovered; it continued to increase through the fourth quarter of 2021 but declined slightly in the first quarter of 2022.