Land of fortunes
The US economy and its stock markets performed well in 2012-14, leading to a sixth successive year of rising wealth. Average wealth was USD 209,000 at the turn of the century and rose fairly steadily until 2006, before falling as a result of the financial crisis. After a fairly tumultuous period, wealth per adult has fully recovered, and is now 19% above the 2006 level. Despite the forthcoming termination of quantitative easing, the US economy is doing well.
There is uncertainty about whether the stock market will continue to rise, but otherwise the signs are positive for household wealth in the immediate future.
The USA is unusual in having a very high proportion of assets (70%) reported as held in financial form, partly because it includes business equity wholly as a financial asset. Adopting the more usual procedure of treating unincorporated enterprises as part of the household sector, the share would be about 62%, which is still relatively high.
The USA has a larger number of active shareholders than most other countries. Also, compared with many other OECD countries, it has relatively more economic activity in the private sector than the public sector, and more outward foreign investment — both of which rely partly on financing by households. Debts of USD 57,800 per adult are not extreme by international standards.
Compared to wealth distribution in the rest of the world, the USA has a high proportion of the population with wealth above USD 100,000. The percentage of people with wealth at higher levels is even more disproportionate. The USA has by far the greatest number of members of the top 1% global wealth group, and accounts for 41% of the world’s millionaires. The number of UHNW individuals with wealth above USD 50 million is eight times that of the next country, China.