Racial Wealth Inequality
and the Black Family
William Darity Jr. and
Melba J. Nicholson
Wealth is grossly unequally distributed in the United States, starkly more unevenly distributed than income. Edward Wolff's (2003) estimates indicate that by the mid-1980s, 56% of all wealth in the United States was owned by the upper 5% of all wealth holders. This compares quite unfavorably with estimates for other affluent countries during the same time span: The top 5% of the distribution held 38% of the wealth in Canada; the top 5% of the distribution held 43% of the wealth in France; the top 5% of the distribution held 31% of the wealth in Sweden, and the top 5% of the distribution held 25% of Japan's wealth. Moreover, in the United States the top 1% of the wealth distribution possessed a 38.5% share, whereas the lowest two quintiles—the bottom 40%—held only 0.2% of the nation's wealth (Rose, 2000).
In general, the most significant component of wealth for most Americans with positive net worth is equity in their homes. Sixty-six percent of net worth for the bottom 80% of wealth holders takes the form of home equity. In contrast, for the top 1% of wealth holders—the very richest Americans—only 6% of their net worth is generated by home ownership. The rest of their portfolios consist of a wide array of financial assets. Indeed, this small fraction of the American population owned close to 60% of all the nation's financial assets. The bottom 90% of the wealth distribution held less than 13% of the nation's financial assets (Rose, 2000).