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A Rolling Tide: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth in the US, 1989-2001

  • Arthur B. Kennickell
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    From 1989 to 2001, wealth in real terms increased overall among US 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 one percent, the next wealthiest nine 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.

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    File URL: http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_393.pdf
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    Paper provided by Levy Economics Institute in its series Economics Working Paper Archive with number wp_393.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2003
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    Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_393
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.levyinstitute.org

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    1. Ana M. Aizcorbe & Arthur B. Kennickell & Kevin B. Moore, 2003. "Recent changes in U.S. family finances: evidence from the 1998 and 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Jan, pages 1-32.
    2. Arthur B. Kennickell & Martha Starr-McCluer, 1996. "Household saving and portfolio change: evidence from the 1983-89 SCF panel," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-18, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Erik Hurst & Ming Ching Luoh & Frank P. Stafford, 1998. "The Wealth Dynamics of American Families, 1984-94," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 267-338.
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