How do you stack up with the rest of America?
Published June 9, 2021|14 min read
Table of Contents
Your net worth is the total value of your assets minus the value of all your debts and liabilities. Analyzing net worth is useful because it gives a high-level snapshot of an individual’s or family’s wealth and general financial well-being.
To better understand where Americans are keeping their money, we analyzed 2019 net worth data from the Federal Reserve and highlighted some key trends in the type and value of assets that Americans own. Our data looks at different demographic groups, like to see how wealth differs between homeowners and renters, and we also went back 30 years to see how wealth has changed from 1989 to 2019. To see the average net worth of Americans and how you stack up, read on.
Over the past 30 years, many Americans have shifted their wealth to investment funds and retirement accounts
Net worth generally grows as people age, but growth between age groups is uneven and younger Americans seem to be facing a growing wealth gap
The net worth of homeowners was 40 times higher than the net worth of renters in 2019, and the gap has grown steadily over the past decade
The net worth of parents is much lower than that of non-parents, with parents of young children having the lowest net worth levels
Before diving into our data, it’s useful to explain how to calculate your own net worth. The formula is simple:
net worth = assets - liabilities
Your assets include anything you own, from the money in your bank accounts to the value of your book collection. Which assets you include are up to you, but it’s probably easiest to focus on your financial assets — like bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts — and major nonfinancial assets — like a home, car, or business equity. For ease, exclude smaller nonfinancial assets unless you see them as valuable and liquid (such as perhaps a well-maintained set of sterling silver flatware that you are willing to sell).
Your liabilities include all your debts and anything else you owe someone: student loans, an auto loan, a mortgage, medical debt, credit card balances, business loans, etc.
Keep in mind that net worth can be an imperfect measure. For example, your net worth may quickly drop from positive to negative if you take out a mortgage, but that doesn’t mean your financial situation is any less healthy — after all, you now own a high-value asset that may appreciate in value. Most people are in a good position if they have a consistent upward trend in their net worth over time.
There are some clear differences in where people across age groups keep their wealth. In terms of financial assets — like bank accounts and investment accounts — older generations are more likely to own most types of assets. Overall, Americans also seem to be shifting their wealth from bank accounts and individual bonds or stocks into retirement accounts and pooled investment funds (like mutual funds). The values of annuities and trusts have also increased significantly over time.
The percentage of people who own nonfinancial assets, like cars, homes, and business equity, hasn’t increased significantly over the past few decades, but the value of people’s assets are worth significantly more, perhaps indicating a greater concentration of wealth among certain households.
Let's look deeper at four types of assets plus how their usage and values have changed in the past 30 years:
Financial assets, excluding investments
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One type of asset with big differences across groups is the certificate of deposit (CD). CDs are much more common among older people, and the popularity of CDs has decreased significantly since 1989. About 20% of families owned CDs in 1989, compared to just about 8% in 2019. The long-term decrease in average CD rates may offer a clue as to why people have turned away from CDs. According to the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, six-month CDs could be sold in March 1989 at an average rate of 10.47% (actually down from a peak of 18.29% in March 1980). By March of 2013, that average CD value was hanging solidly around 0.27%.  Meanwhile, the stock market has grown about 10 times in value over the past 30 years.
Similarly to CDs, savings bonds appear to be used less now compared with 1989. Even though the percentage of people who currently own savings bonds is rather constant across generations, the median amount of savings bonds that people own has decreased by 33% since 1989.
Looking deeper at investing, the percentage of people buying individual stocks and bonds has fluctuated over time but is slightly lower in 2019 compared to 1989. Meanwhile the value of people’s investments is significantly higher now than it was 30 years ago.
In 1989, 17% of people owned stocks. That percentage peaked at 21% (in 2001 and 2004) and has remained between about 14% and 15% since 2010. But the median value of people’s stocks has increased 68%, from about $15,000 in 1989 to $25,000 in 2019. One might expect stock values to increase over time along with the overall stock market, but the increased value of people’s stocks hasn’t necessarily been consistent with rising markets. The overall stock market has grown steadily since 2009 but the median value of people’s stocks peaked in 2013 (at $29,700) and then steadily fell through 2019. So the stock market has broken records over the past six years, but the average person hasn’t necessarily seen those gains firsthand.
Another investment asset that potentially highlights unequal growth in wealth is pooled investment funds, which could include investments like mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). From 1989 to 2019, the percentage of people using pooled investment funds hasn’t increased substantially — rising only from 7% to 9% — but the median value of those assets has increased substantially — growing 325% from $26,000 in 1989 to $110,000 in 2019.
Similarly, while the percentage of people who own bonds has decreased from about 6% of all families in 1989 to about 1% in 2019, the median value of people’s bonds has more than doubled from $55,700 in 1989 to $121,000 in 2019.
More people have retirement accounts than ever before (37% of people in 1989 vs 51% in 2019) and the median value of people’s retirement accounts — covering individual and employer-sponsored retirement plans — has nearly tripled from $22,000 in 1989 to $65,000 in 2019.
Not all groups experienced equal growth in retirement account values, though. As an example, the value of retirement accounts for people with college degrees was 3.4 times higher in 2019 than in 1989. Retirement accounts for people with a high school diploma were worth 2.7 times more. For people with no high school diploma, retirement account values in 2019 were nearly identical to their 1989 values.
When considering the disparities in retirement account savings, it’s also important to note that the cost of living was twice as high in 2019 compared to 1989, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That means certain groups — such as people without high school diplomas — haven’t seen their retirement savings increase enough to keep up with the cost of living.
Most families own some type of nonfinancial asset, with the most common being vehicles (85% of families own one) and homes (65% of families own one). And while the percentage of people with most nonfinancial assets hasn’t increased much over the years, the median value of those assets has.
As an example, the percentage of people owning their primary residence only increased by one percentage point from 1989 to 2019 — going from 64% to 65% — but the median value that people have in their primary residences has increased by 62% from $139,000 in 1989 to $225,000 in 2019. In a potentially clearer example of wealth concentration, a smaller percentage of people owned equity in nonresidential property in 1989 than in 2019 (11% vs 7%), but the median value of that equity has increased 81%.
The median net worth for American families is $121,700 according to 2019 Federal Reserve data, but there are big differences in net worth across age groups. We’ll explore some of these differences below, but one trend worth noting here is the growing wealth gap between the youngest generations. In 2010 and 2013, the median net worth for people in the 35-44 age group was about 4.5 times higher than the net worth for people under age 35. In 2016, it was about 5.5 times higher, and in 2019, it was just over 6.5 times higher. This trend doesn't exist betwen the youngest and oldest age groups, which could suggest that younger generations are having a harder time building initial wealth compared to one decade ago.
|Age group||2019 net worth||2016 net worth||2013 net worth||2010 net worth||2007 net worth|
|75 or older||$254,800||$281,600||$213,900||$255,400||$263,600|
Net worth increases as people get older, but there isn’t just one reason for the increase. For example, the growth in net worth isn’t strictly tied to income. Fed data shows that the median income is 53% higher in the 35-44 age bracket than the less-than-35 age bracket. Meanwhile, net worth in the 35-44 age bracket is 557% higher than the younger group. Between the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups, incomes are higher for the older group by only 5%, but the group’s net worth is 85% higher. As you can see in the table below, most groups haven’t actually seen notable increases in income over the past decade, hinting that growth in net worth is led by increasing value in other assets.
|75 or older||$43,100||$42,600||$31,300||$34,300||$28,200|
In general, older individuals are more likely to have most types of financial assets, including investments, cash-value life insurance plans, and simple transaction accounts like checking, savings, and money market accounts. Older people are also more likely to own nonfinancial assets, like a home, a vehicle, or business equity.
One asset with big differences across age groups is retirement accounts. About 45% of people under 35 have a retirement account, with a median value of $13,000. For people between the ages of 35 and 44, about 56% have a retirement account and the median account value is $60,000. (In 2019, the retirement account value for people in the 35-44 age group was 4.6 times higher than for people under age 35. That’s the largest difference in the past 30 years and comes even after the strong growth of the U.S. economy between 2013 and 2019.)
Unlike with other assets, the percentage of people with retirement accounts decreases as people age: While about 58% of people aged 45-54 have a retirement account, 55% of people age 55-64, 48% of people age 65-74, and 38% of people age 75 or older have one.
In 2019, the net worth of homeowners was 40 times higher than the net worth of renters. While homeowners had a median net worth of $255,000, the median net worth of renters was only $6,300. The gap in net worth between renters and homeowners has also been growing since the Great Recession.
|2019 net worth||2016 net worth||2013 net worth||2010 net worth|
The big wealth discrepancies between homeowners and renters are important because research has found that owning a home is the primary source of wealth for many Americans. According to Census data from 2017, peoples’ equity in their homes is two-thirds of their net worth. Meanwhile, wealth accumulation from non-housing sources is often minor or even negative — especially for minority and low-income families — making homeownership a major path for families to potentially increase their long-term financial situations. 
Beyond just accumulating wealth in the present, homeownership can also lead to intergenerational wealth, with studies showing that children raised by homeowners generally have higher incomes and greater wealth of their own later in life.  This could spell trouble for future generations, as homeownership rates have declined greatly among young adults since about 2007, the start of the housing market collapse and Great Recession. Meanwhile, housing prices have increased over the past few years. Research also suggests that young adults are more likely to become homeowners if they can receive sufficient help from their parents, potentially further concentrating wealth among a small number of households. 
Of course, buying a home isn’t a simple guarantee of wealth. Many Americans cannot afford to buy a home in the first place. Even after buying a house, many homeowners cannot comfortably afford the housing costs. Homeowners in many areas are paying more than a third of their income on housing costs, as shown by our previous analysis of the most and least house-poor states.
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Federal Reserve data shows that people with children generally have a much lower net worth than their childless counterparts. For example, a couple with children has a median net worth of $166,600, while a couple with no children has a median net worth of $251,800. That makes the net worth of couples without children 51% higher than for couples with children.
|Family structure||Median net worth|
|Single person with children||$36,900|
|Single person (age 54 or less) without children||$15,700|
|Single person (age 55+) without children||$119,700|
|Couple with children||$166,600|
|Couple without children||$251,800|
Looking at separate data from the Census Bureau, there are also some stark differences in net worth based on the age of children in a household. The median net worth for a household that doesn’t have children under 18 is nearly twice as high as for households that include at least one child under age 18 ($125,300 vs $65,370). Census data also shows that among families with children under age 18, those in which the youngest child is less than 5 years old have a median net worth of just $38,420.
The stark differences in net worth may also be compounded by recent tax changes and the coronavirus pandemic. As explained in our analysis of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, certain single parents and other individuals could have seen increased federal income taxes starting in 2018 because of changes to personal exemptions and the standard deduction.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have faced job loss or have had to leave their jobs to care for children after schools and day care facilities closed. In Policygenius’ 2021 Parents and Money Survey, one-third of parents said they had to dip into their savings to cover expenses during the pandemic.
According to a recent Census report, mothers were hit especially hard by the pandemic, with the unemployment rate for mothers with school-age children reaching 13.9% in January 2020. That rate has decreased but was still at 6% in January 2021. 
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According to Federal Reserve data, white people have the highest median net worth when comparing households of different races and ethnicities. There is also a big gap between the wealth of white families and non-white families. In 2019, the median net worth of white households was $188,200, with Hispanic or Latino households having a net worth of $36,200 and with Black households having a net worth of just $24,100.
|Race||Net worth (median)|
|Hispanic or Latino||$36,200|
Recent studies have shown how the racial wealth gap and general income inequality have expanded over time. For example, wage data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that wages have grown faster at all income levels for white and Hispanic workers than for Black workers between 2000 and 2019. The EPI also found that the Black-white wage gap steadily increased from 2000 to 2019. While Black workers earned just 79.2% of the amount earned by white workers in 2000 (a 20.8% wage gap), by 2019 Black median wages were only worth 75.6% of white wages (a 24.4% Black-white wage gap). 
Wealth for Black people and those in other minority groups may also take a hit during and after the Coronavirus pandemic. Looking just at incomes, BLS data shows that Black workers were among those most likely to lose their jobs in April 2020 (when statewide lockdowns became common) and their employment rates rebounded more slowly than white workers’. 
Beyond just income and wages, Black and Hispanic people had significantly higher foreclosure rates and mortgage delinquency rates than white people in 2020.  Since wealth for most people in minority groups means just the value of their homes, the coronavirus pandemic may lead to difficulty accumulating wealth for years or even generations to come. This is especially true since Black people already experienced much lower homeownership rates than white people across the country, as shown in our previous analysis of Black homeownership rates.
In 2019, the median net worth for someone with a college degree ($308,200) was four times higher than the income for someone with only a high school degree ($74,000). Interestingly, this gap between the net worth of those with a college degree and those with only a high school degree has remained relatively constant since about 2000 (though all groups saw a decline in net worth from 2007 to 2010).
|Education level||Net worth (median)|
|No high school diploma||$20,500|
|High school diploma||$74,000|
By going back to 2017 data from the Census Bureau, we can see there are also big differences in the net worths of people with different college degrees, with a near-doubling of net worth between each degree level.
|Degree level||Net worth (median)|
|Graduate or professional degree||$396,900|
Of course, there are well-paying jobs you can get at any degree level. For example, we have previously looked at the best paying jobs you can get with a bachelor’s degree and well-paying jobs for associate’s degree holders. (For those interested in jobs with high-growth potential, you may be interested in our look at the best states for green jobs.)
We primarily analyzed net worth data from the Federal Reserve Board’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). All SCF data used for this study is inflation-adjusted to 2019 dollars. Where indicated, we also used net worth data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 Wealth, Asset Ownership, & Debt of Households dataset. Cost of living data is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Stastistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).