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Family, Education, and Sources of Wealth among the Richest Americans, 1982-2012


  • Steven N. Kaplan
  • Joshua D. Rauh


We examine characteristics of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the United States over the past three decades as tabulated by Forbes Magazine, and analyze which theories of increasing inequality are most consistent with these data. The people of the Forbes 400 in recent years did not grow up as advantaged as in decades past. They are more likely to have started their businesses and to have grown up upper-middle class, not wealthy. Today's Forbes 400 were able to access education while young, and apply their skills to the most scalable industries: technology, finance, and mass retail. Most of the change occurred by 2001.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven N. Kaplan & Joshua D. Rauh, 2013. "Family, Education, and Sources of Wealth among the Richest Americans, 1982-2012," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 158-162, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:103:y:2013:i:3:p:158-62
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.103.3.158

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Xavier Gabaix & Augustin Landier, 2008. "Why has CEO Pay Increased So Much?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 49-100.
    2. Kevin J. Murphy & Ján Zábojník, 2004. "CEO Pay and Appointments: A Market-Based Explanation for Recent Trends," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 192-196, May.
    3. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, May.
    4. Klass, Oren S. & Biham, Ofer & Levy, Moshe & Malcai, Ofer & Solomon, Sorin, 2006. "The Forbes 400 and the Pareto wealth distribution," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 290-295, February.
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      by Don Boudreaux in Cafe Hayek on 2016-09-14 19:02:52


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    Cited by:

    1. Obschonka, Martin & Fisch, Christian & Boyd, Ryan, 2017. "Using digital footprints in entrepreneurship research: A Twitter-based personality analysis of superstar entrepreneurs and managers," Journal of Business Venturing Insights, Elsevier, vol. 8(C), pages 13-23.
    2. Facundo Alvaredo & Bertrand Garbinti & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "On the Share of Inheritance in Aggregate Wealth: Europe and the USA, 1900–2010," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(334), pages 239-260, April.
    3. Fabiano Schivardi & Claudio Michelacci, 2016. "Are They All Like Bill, Mark, and Steve? The Education Premium for Entrepreneurs," 2016 Meeting Papers 1163, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    4. Kornai, János, 2015. "Milyen is hát a tőke a 21. században?. Megjegyzések Piketty könyvéhez [So what is capital in the 21st century?. Notes on Piketty s book]," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(9), pages 909-942.
    5. Florida, Richard & Mellander, Charlotta, 2017. "The Geography of the Global Super-Rich," Working Paper Series in Economics and Institutions of Innovation 448, Royal Institute of Technology, CESIS - Centre of Excellence for Science and Innovation Studies.
    6. Majid Ghorbani & Michael Carney, 2016. "The changing face of China’s billionaire-entrepreneurs," Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Springer, vol. 33(4), pages 881-902, December.
    7. Nason, Robert S. & Carney, Michael & Le Breton-Miller, Isabelle & Miller, Danny, 2019. "Who cares about socioemotional wealth? SEW and rentier perspectives on the one percent wealthiest business households," Journal of Family Business Strategy, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 144-158.
    8. Mathias, Blake D. & Solomon, Shelby J. & Madison, Kristen, 2017. "After the harvest: A stewardship perspective on entrepreneurship and philanthropy," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 385-404.
    9. Isabelle Le Breton-Miller & Danny Miller, 2018. "Beyond the Firm: Business Families as Entrepreneurs," Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, , vol. 42(4), pages 527-536, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


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