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Educational Household Wealth Trends and Wealth Inequality

Line chart showing cumulative changes in average real wealth by education level based on the Household Wealth Index

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 2020 had 92% more wealth on average than similar families in 1989. The growth has not been as pronounced for families with some college or with only a high school diploma. Families headed by someone with less than a high school diploma had less wealth, on average, than similar families in 1989 in most quarters. Except for those with less than a high school diploma, real average wealth levels were at their highest for each educational level since at least 1989.

Line chart displaying average real wealth gaps by education for those with no high school degree, high school degree, and some college experience

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 fourth quarter of 2020, 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 degree and a bachelor’s-level education was 23 cents per $1, and the ratio between someone with less than a high school degree and a bachelor’s-level education was 9 cents per $1.

Bar chart displaying average real wealth by level of education for Q4 2020

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 degree and less than a high school degree in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the fourth quarter, the college group had about $1.2 million, $1.4 million and $1.6 million more family wealth, on average, than the some college, high school, and no high school groups, respectively. Except for the no high school group, these average real family wealth levels were at all-time highs.