The U.S. Census Bureau recently released an analysis of the wealth of American households using 2021 data, the latest available.
Wealth, as the Census Bureau defines it, is “the value of assets owned minus the debts owed.” The median household wealth (meaning that half had more and half less) in 2021 was $166,900.
Retirement accounts and home equity are the basis of most households’ wealth. In fact, homeowner households have about 44 times the median wealth of renters.
At the extremes, the lowest-earning 10% of American households had zero dollars (no wealth, or negative wealth). The wealthiest 10% were worth over $1.6 million each.
Keep reading for more about wealth by age, starting with the youngest age group.
Households led by someone under 35
Median wealth for this type of household: $30,500 (in 2021 dollars)
The Census Bureau uses the word “householder” for someone who owns or rents a home in their own name. In 2021, unmarried female householders’ median wealth in this age group, $9,390, was just one-third of that ($27,620) of unmarried male householders. (Married couples’ median wealth in this group was $86,430.)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at Americans’ money another way, through our earnings. For a comparable age group, 25-34, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers was $1,042 in the second quarter of 2023, the BLS says.
Break these results down by gender and a pay gap appears:
- The median earning for men in this age group is $1,121 weekly.
- For women, it’s $966 a week.
Households led by someone 35-44
Median wealth for this type of household: $126,900 (in 2021 dollars)
The BLS finds that median weekly earnings for a comparable age group of full-time workers, 35 to 44, are $1,229 per week.
Broken out by gender, men in this group earn a median $1,319, compared with $1,134 for women.
Households led by someone 45-54
Median wealth for this type of household: $186,000 (in 2021 dollars)
The BLS finds that earners in this same 45-to-54 age range make the highest median salary of any group in the survey — $1,233 a week. By gender, men in this age group earn $1,385 a week, and women make $1,095.
Households led by someone 55-64
Median wealth for this type of household: $276,000 (in 2021 dollars)
Remember that, among people under 35, unmarried female householders had a third of the wealth that unmarried male householders had?
Well, later in life, women tend to catch up. By the time we reach our late 50s and early 60s, the wealth difference between the sexes becomes “not statistically significant,” the Census Bureau says.
Households led by someone 65-69
Median wealth for this type of household: $341,400 (in 2021 dollars)
By age 65 to 69, Americans’ wealth has, at a median of $341,400, almost reached its pinnacle. Only people in the 70-74 age group have more wealth.
The RAND Corporation, studying the spending behavior of older Americans, found in 2022 that people spend slightly less after age 65. It’s true both for singles and households of couples and true for people broadly, across levels of wealth.
Households led by someone 70-74
Median wealth for this type of household: $373,900 (in 2021 dollars)
The wealthiest Americans by age are those in the 70-74 years group. At this point they’ve got median wealth of $373,900.
Including home equity, the wealth of all U.S. homeowning householders is a median $397,800. “Equity in one’s own home was the third-most common asset class; 61.9% of households owned a home during the year ,” according to the Census Bureau.
Remove home equity, and homeowners’ median wealth shrinks to $158,400. And yet, even without their home equity, homeowners have a sizable advantage. The median wealth of all renters is a comparatively paltry $9,000.
Households led by someone 75 or older
Median wealth for this type of household: $315,900 (in 2021 dollars)
After age 75, household wealth shrinks. “Aging households eventually draw down their wealth,” the Census Bureau concludes. At this age, median wealth is about eight-tenths of what it was for people in the 70-74 age group.
Here’s a nugget from RAND that’s revealing: As people grow older they spend a bigger proportion of their budget on gifts and donations.
Wealth by education
Considering wealth among all age groups, the Census Bureau finds that:
- Householders without a high school diploma have, unsurprisingly, the least median total wealth of all: $8,460.
- High school graduates do better, with median wealth of $55,030.
- Americans with some college education but no degree have median wealth of $90,810.
- Among those who earned an associate degree, median wealth climbs to $139,000.
- A bachelor’s degree bumps median wealth up to $266,600.
- A graduate degree or professional degree skyrockets median wealth to $555,900.