Every three years, the Federal Reserve sponsors the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which collects information on the financial state of U.S. households. The survey is one of the nation’s primary sources of information on the financial condition of different types of households. Here are a few interesting observations gleaned from the most recent surveys conducted in 2013 and 2016, with the latter comparing changes during that timeframe.
The typical household’s median family income rose 10% between 2013 and 2016, from $48,100 to $52,700. During that same period, mean income (the average) increased 14%, from $89,900 to $102,700. Families at the top of the income distribution saw larger gains in income between 2013 and 2016 than other families, consistent with widening income inequality.
Across age groups, median and mean incomes show a life-cycle pattern, rising to a peak in the middle age groups and then declining for groups that are older and increasingly more likely to be retired. Income also shows a strong positive association with education; in particular, incomes for families headed by a person who has a college degree tend to be substantially higher than for those with lower levels of schooling.
Incomes of white non-Hispanic families are substantially higher than those of nonwhite (black or African-American non-Hispanic, Hispanic, or Latino, and other or multiple race) families. Income is also higher for homeowners and for families living in urban areas than for other families, and income is systematically higher for groups with greater net worth.
Families near the bottom of the income and wealth distribution experienced large gains in mean and median net worth following large declines between 2010 and 2013. Families without a college education and nonwhite and Hispanic families experienced larger proportional increases in net worth than other types of families, although more-educated families and white non-Hispanic families continue to have higher wealth than other families.
Overall, median and mean inflation-adjusted net worth — the difference between a family’s gross assets and liabilities — rose between 2013 and 2016. Overall, the median net worth of all families rose 16% to $97,300, and mean net worth rose 26% to $692,100. Much of the increase in wealth was driven by the increased prices of homes and investments such as stocks and other securities.
The same patterns of inequality in the distribution of wealth across all families are also evident within race/ethnicity groups: For each of the race/ethnicity groups, the mean is substantially higher than the median, reflecting the concentration of wealth at the top of the wealth distribution. White families had the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $171,000 and $933,700, respectively. Black families’ median and mean net worth was less than 15% that of white families, at $17,600 and $138,200, respectively. Hispanic families’ median and mean net worth was $20,700 and $191,200, respectively.
A few other interesting facts
Homeownership rates decreased between 2013 and 2016 to 63.7%, continuing a decline from their peak of 69.1% in 2004. For families that own a home, mean net housing values (value of a home minus outstanding mortgages) rose.
Retirement plan participation and retirement account asset values rose for families across the income distribution, with the largest proportional increases occurring among families in the bottom half of the income distribution.
Overall, many measures of debt and debt obligations indicate that debt has fallen, while education debt increased substantially between 2013 and 2016.