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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. Steven N. Kaplan & Joshua Rauh, 2010. "Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(3), pages 1004-1050, March.
    2. 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.
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    4. Daron Acemoglu & David Autor, 2012. "What Does Human Capital Do? A Review of Goldin and Katz's The Race between Education and Technology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(2), pages 426-463, June.
    5. 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.
    6. Xavier Gabaix, 2009. "Power Laws in Economics and Finance," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 255-294, May.
    7. Edward N. Wolff, 2010. "Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States-- Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze--An Update to 2007," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_589, Levy Economics Institute.
    8. Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "The Economics of Superstars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 845-858, December.
    9. 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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    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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