Gap Between Higher- and Lower-Wealth Households Widens

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2014 - Median net worth increased between 2000 and 2011 for households in the top two quintiles of the net worth distribution (the wealthiest 40 percent), while declining for those in the lower three quintiles (the bottom 60 percent), according to new statistics released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The result was a widening wealth gap between those at the top and those in the middle and bottom of the net worth distribution. Each quintile represents 20 percent, or one-fifth, of all households.

"The types of assets that households hold may vary," Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck said. "Therefore, business cycle changes over time may affect households differently based on their net worth quintile and demographic characteristics."

According to Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S.: 2000 to 2011 and associated detailed tables, median household net worth decreased by $5,124 for households in the first (bottom) net worth quintile and increased by $61,379 (or 10.8 percent) for those in the highest (top) quintile (Figure 1). Median net worth of households in the highest quintile was 39.8 times higher than the second lowest quintile in 2000, and it rose to 86.8 times higher in 2011. (Figure 2).

The report also details a widening of the wealth gap for households sharing the same demographic characteristics, such as age, race and Hispanic origin, and educational attainment of the householder. For example, the median net worth for non-Hispanic whites in the highest quintile was 21.8 times higher than for those in the second-lowest quintile in 2000; in 2011, this had increased to 31.5 times higher. For blacks, the ratio increased from 139.9 to 328.1, and for Hispanics, the increase was from 158.4 to 220.9.

Between 2000 and 2011, the wealth gap has also widened between groups with different demographic characteristics. For example, the ratio of median net worth of non-Hispanic whites to that of blacks rose from 10.6 to 17.5 between 2000 and 2011, and the ratio of non-Hispanic whites to Hispanics also increased from 8.1 to 14.4.

"However, when looking at the highest quintile for these groups, we see that blacks experienced higher relative increases in median net worth than non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics," Census Bureau economist Marina Vornovitsky said.

For blacks in the highest quintile, median net worth increased by 62.8 percent to $229,041; for Hispanics in the highest quintile, it climbed by 17.9 percent to $250,462, and for non-Hispanic whites in the highest quintile, it rose by 11.9 percent to $754,244.

The Distribution of Household Net Worth and Debt in the U.S. detailed table packages were released today for 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the years for which data were collected.

Also released today were tables on the median value of debt and percent holding debt for households by various characteristics of the householder for 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010. They complement similar tables for 2011 released last year.

 

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