The Distribution Of Net Wealth In The United States

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Posted: Oct 22, 2019 9:07 AM

Net wealth is looking like it will be a hot topic in the upcoming 2020 election season in the United States, with several candidates proposing to tax high net worth households to only partially pay for the explosion in federal government spending they are also proposing.

How at risk are you might be to these newly proposed taxes on wealth depends on what your household's net worth is and how your rank in net worth among all Americans. To help answer the first part of that question, we'll direct you to Bankrate's Net Worth Calculator, which will add up the value of your assets and subtract out your liabilities to estimate your household's net worth, assuming you haven't already done that math.

After you have that figure, plug it into the tool here, where we'll estimate your household's percentile ranking among all U.S. households, based on data for 2016 that was recently published by the U.S. Census Bureau. Hopefully, you'll be entering a positive number, but if not, our tool can handle if your household is underwater and you have to enter a negative value.

Now you have a fairly good sense of what percentage of all 129,600,000 U.S. households have a net worth that is either less than or equal to yours! The chart below shows our model for the distribution of net worth in the United States and how it compares to the data recorded by the U.S. Census. 

Overall, the tool is generally accurate to within about 1.5 percentiles of the reported data, which is pretty good given how we modeled the data, where we spliced two very different regressions to generate our results.

In addition to the Census Bureau's wealth distribution data, the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances provides an alternate source of data for household net worth in the U.S. The SCF is conducted every three years, where the data for 2019 will likely become available in late October 2020.

If you want to find out how your household ranks to the nearest half percentile according to the Federal Reserve's survey data, be sure to check out Don't Quit Your Day Job's Net Worth Percentile Calculator. Better still, if you want to find out how your household's net worth ranks among people in your age group, DQYDJ's Net Worth by Age Calculator has you covered!

Finally, we discovered that Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) chairman Bill Gates had the highest reported net worth in 2016 thanks to the value of the shares he owns in the company he founded, which at $75 billion, would place him just off the top right end of the chart. The second highest net worth for an American belongs to Warren Buffett, whose accumulated net wealth over the last 49 years as the head of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.ABRK.B) would appear on the chart at $60.8 billion (equivalent to a natural logarithm of 24.8).