An Examination of Changes in the Distribution of Wealth from 1989 to 1998
Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances
This paper considers the distribution of wealth in the period from 1989 to 1998 as an indicator of the economic condition of households. It examines changes in the distribution of wealth over that period, mostly using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). Some of the SCF data used here have previously been studied by Weicher (1996), Wolff (1996), and Kennickell and Woodburn (1992 and 1999). As background, the paper also uses some estimates published by Forbes magazine on the 400 wealthiest people in the United States. The first section of the paper briefly discusses the data. The next section uses the Forbes data to characterize changes at the very top of the wealth distribution. The third section presents a variety of estimates of wealth changes for the population below the "Forbes 400" level using SCF data. The fourth section examines the sensitivity of the SCF estimates to a variety of assumptions about systematic mismeasurement in the data. The final section summarizes the findings of the paper.