Home / Economy / Articles / How has wealth distribution in the US changed over time?
Embed on your website

The highest-earning 20% of Americans have seen their share of wealth grow over the past three decades, while those who earn less saw their share decline, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

What is wealth?

Wealth is the value of one’s assets owned minus the debts they owe. As a result, wealth can be negative.

Assets include cash in a savings or checking account, stocks and mutual fund shares, equity in a home or other real estate, vehicles, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401K, among other assets. Debts include credit card bills, hospital bills, bank loans, student loans, or an outstanding mortgage balance.

Whose wealth has grown the most?

The top 20% of Americans by income have seen their share of wealth increase the most between 1990 and 2022. In the final quarter of 2022, this group held 71% of the nation’s wealth – up from 61% in 1990.

The highest-earning 1% of Americans drove this growth: at the end of 2022, their share of the country’s wealth grew to 26% from 17% in 1990 — nine percentage points. Across those 32 years, the rest of the top quintile saw their share of wealth grow to 45% from 44% — a one percentage point gain.

According to USAFacts calculations using data from the Internal Revenue Service and Census Bureau, the total market income[1] for the top 1% averaged $3.4 million in 2021.

Comparatively, the bottom 20% have seen their share of wealth remain at around 3% over the past three decades.

How has the wealth of the American middle class changed?

The 60% of income earners between the top and bottom quintiles — commonly referred to as America’s middle class — have seen their share of wealth diminish since 1990. Over the past three decades, this group’s share of total wealth fell to 26% from 37%.

How much wealth is there in America?

Americans held roughly $137.6 trillion in wealth in 2022, according to the Federal Reserve.

For the top 20%, that equaled about $97.9 trillion. The middle class combined held $35.7 trillion. And the bottom quintile had $4.1 trillion in total wealth.

The top 1% held $35.8 trillion in wealth, more than eight times those in the poorest quintile.

For more information on wealth inequality by income and generation, check out the America in Facts 2023 report, and sign up for our newsletter.

Distribution of Household Wealth
Last updated
September 2023
Population Profiles

Market income sources include wages, investments, and retirement. It has been adjusted for inflation (2022 dollars).