Clients frequently ask me how they compare financially to their peers. There are different ways to measure wealth, but it helps to have benchmarks to offer any form of comparison. The federal government’s Fall 2008 Statistics of Income (SOI) Bulletin is a good place to start. The report provides data compiled from tax returns, other official documents, and analytical studies. The latest SOI bulletin (The data is from 2004) includes a wealth of information on the nation’s wealthiest individuals.
By the bulletin’s definition, an individual who had a gross estate worth more than $1.5 million (the exemption for federal estate tax in 2004) was wealthy. About 2.7 million Americans holding $11.1 trillion in assets qualified and, after accounting for total debts of more than $850 billion, this group had a combined net worth of $10.2 trillion. It’s interesting to note that while this is a lot of money, it would not be enough to pay off the national debt.
Though these officially wealthy individuals comprised only 1.2% of the adult U.S. population, they held 20.3% of the country’s total net worth. Consider these details:
- Demographics. About 1.6 million of the richest adults, or 57%, were men. Their ages divided evenly into three groups: under age 50; between age 50 and 65; and age 65 and over. The female group skewed slightly older. Only 25.8% were under age 50 while 39.2% were age 65 or older.
- Marital status of the wealthy also varied by gender. Although seven in 10 of the wealthiest males were married, only half of the women in that group were married. But 24% of wealthy women were widowed compared with 6.8% of the men.
- Asset allocation. As a group, the wealthy in 2004 kept 40.6% of assets in real estate (including personal residences), but this figure declined to 12.6% for those who had a net worth of $10 million or more. Similarly, while men overall had 15% of their money in retirement plans, that dropped to 4% for the richest of the rich (likely because of statutory limits on contributions). Finally, the amount allocated to stocks increased with net worth, from 14.9% for all males to 40.9% of those with $10 million or more.
The statistics for women were similar with a few notable exceptions. Compared with men in each wealth category, women held proportionately more of their assets in personal residences and stock and less in business interests.
This is the most recent information available. How do you compare?