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A Rolling Tide: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth in the U.S., 1989-2001

  • Arthur B. Kennickell

    (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System)

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    From 1989 to 2001, wealth in real terms increased overall among U.S. 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 1 percent, the next wealthiest 9 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://128.118.178.162/eps/othr/papers/0311/0311002.pdf
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    Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Others with number 0311002.

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    Length: 51 pages
    Date of creation: 11 Nov 2003
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpot:0311002
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 51
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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    1. Wolff, Edward N, 1996. "International Comparisons of Wealth Inequality," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 42(4), pages 433-51, December.
    2. Arthur B. Kennickell & Annika E. Sunden, 1997. "Pensions, social security, and the distribution of wealth," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1997-55, 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.
    4. John Weicher, 1996. "The Distribution of Wealth," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 650823, 3.
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