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Educational Household Wealth Trends and Wealth Inequality

Line chart showing cumulative changes in wealth by educational achievement

SOURCES: Distributional Financial Accounts and Institute for Economic Equity calculations.

NOTES: College represents families with at least a college degree; other education levels represent the families’ highest completed education. Vertical bars indicate recessions.

This figure shows the average real wealth of families with a given educational achievement. On average, families headed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree have greater wealth than similarly educated families did in the past. College-headed families in 2021 had 99% more wealth on average than similar families in 1989. Growth has not been as pronounced for less-educated families; in most quarters, those headed by someone with less than a high school diploma had less wealth, on average, than similar families in 1989.

Line chart displaying wealth gaps for those with some college, high school, or no high school degree compared to $1 of Bachelor's Wealth

SOURCES: Distributional Financial Accounts and Institute for Economic Equity calculations.

NOTES: College represents families with at least a college degree; other education levels represent the families’ highest completed education. Vertical bars indicate recessions.

Given the fast growth in average wealth for college-headed families relative to families who are not college educated, real educational family wealth gaps have grown. As of the first quarter of 2021, the ratio between families headed by someone with some college education (but no four-year degree) and families headed by a college graduate was 30 cents per $1. The ratio between someone with a high school diploma and a bachelor’s-level education was 23 cents per $1, and the ratio between someone with less than a high school diploma and a bachelor’s-level education was 9 cents per $1.

Bar chart showing the average wealth for families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, some college but no degree, at most a high school degree and less than a high school degree in the first quarter of 2021

SOURCES: Distributional Financial Accounts and Institute for Economic Equity calculations.

NOTE: College represents families with at least a college degree; other education levels represent the families’ highest completed education.

This bar chart shows the average wealth for families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, some college but no degree, at most a high school diploma and less than a high school diploma in the first quarter of 2021. In the first quarter, the college group had about $1.3 million, $1.4 million and $1.7 million more family wealth, on average, than the some college, high school, and no high school groups, respectively. With the exception of the no high school group, these average real family wealth levels were at all-time highs.