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Who holds what wealth?

More from the Survey of Consumer Finances


A week ago, we reported on the evolution of wealth for different classes of households, divided by wealth quantiles: top 1%, next 9%, next 40%, and bottom 50%. This time we look at what their wealth consists of—again, leveraging the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. The first graph shows the distribution of total assets across the four groups. As mentioned in the earlier post, the first three groups have a similar share of assets, despite having vastly different population sizes, with the bottom 50% having much less.

The second graph shows the same distribution, but this time restricted to real estate assets. Now it looks quite different, with the top 1% holding significantly less (as a share) while the bottom 50% are doing better.

The third graph shows that this is even more pronounced with consumer durables (cars and household appliances, for example). As with real estate, everybody needs some, and there is only so much that the richest can buy.

So where are the assets of the richest coming from? The next graph shows that they own a much larger proportion of financial assets, with the bottom half of the population owning almost none.

The picture is even more dramatic with non-corporate assets (mostly private ownership of non-public enterprises), where the top 1% own over 50%. You can explore more data from the release table, but the general picture is clear: The least wealthy mostly hold assets that are essential in some ways: housing and consumer durables. The wealthiest hold assets through financial vehicles or stakes in businesses.

How these graphs were created: The procedure is the same for each graph. Start from the Levels of Wealth by Wealth Percentile Groups release table, check the series you want, and click “Add to Graph.” From the Edit Graph” menu, open the “Format” tab to choose graph type “Area” with stacking “Percent.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: WFRBLB50081, WFRBLB50083, WFRBLB50084, WFRBLB50085, WFRBLB50098, WFRBLN09027, WFRBLN09029, WFRBLN09030, WFRBLN09031, WFRBLN09044, WFRBLN40054, WFRBLN40056, WFRBLN40057, WFRBLN40058, WFRBLN40071, WFRBLT01000, WFRBLT01002, WFRBLT01003, WFRBLT01004, WFRBLT01017


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