A Century of Wealth in America

Edward N. Wolff (Author)
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Understanding wealth in the United States--who has it, how they acquired it, and how they preserve it--is crucial to addressing the economic and political challenges facing the nation. But until now we have had little reliable information. Edward Wolff, one of the world's great experts on the economics of wealth, offers an authoritative account of patterns in the accumulation and distribution of wealth since 1900.

A Century of Wealth in America demonstrates that the most remarkable change has been the growth of per capita household wealth, which climbed almost eightfold prior to the 2007 recession. But overlaid on this base rate are worrying trends. The share of personal wealth claimed by the richest one percent almost doubled between the mid-1970s and 2013, concurrent with a steep run-up of debt in the middle class. As the wealth of the average family dropped precipitously--by 44 percent--between 2007 and 2013, with black families hit hardest, the debt-income ratio more than doubled. The Great Recession also caused a sharp spike in asset poverty, as more and more families barely survived from one paycheck to the next. In short, the United States has changed from being one of the most economically equal of the advanced industrialized countries to being one of the most unequal.

At a time of deep uncertainty about the future, A Century of Wealth in America provides a sober bedrock of facts and astute analysis. It will become one of the few indispensable resources for contemporary public debate.

Product Details

Belknap Press
Publish Date
October 16, 2017
6.4 X 2.3 X 9.4 inches | 3.3 pounds
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About the Author

Edward N. Wolff is Professor of Economics at New York University.


Wolff is the leading expert on wealth in the United States, and has been for many years. Here he has drawn on his wide knowledge and experience to provide a fascinating portrait of how personal wealth has evolved in the U.S. over the past century.--James Davies, University of Western Ontario
Wolff's magnum opus is a highly timely book, for it contains a trove of interesting material that is highly germane to a political moment when the issue of wealth inequality is on everyone's lips...His evidence suggests that the United States now has the greatest wealth inequality among developed economies and that the recovery from the recession of 2008 is manifesting itself, in part, in a renewed growth in the wealth of the richest.--Gregory Clark"Wall Street Journal" (12/11/2017)
Edward Wolff is probably the most knowledgeable scholar of the empirics of household wealth in the U.S. The book is comprehensive and engaging. The historical perspective is particularly illuminating.--Philippe Van Kerm, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research and University of Luxembourg
What this book really delivers, and why it is important, is a damning indictment of just where late-stage capitalism has gone wrong, and how the soar-away wealth of the 1 per cent (or the 0.1 per cent) is so corrosive of the political and social consensus in contemporary America.-- (12/01/2017)
A remarkably easy and valuable read...The great achievement of Wolff...is to assemble reams of data, and let his numbers speak for themselves--and they speak very loudly and clearly indeed. Anyone trying to understand the rise of Donald Trump would be well advised to study Wolff closely. Many of the underlying causes of the frustrations that led to last November's shock vote can be found in these numbers.-- (10/09/2017)
Wolff delineates the clear connection between rising income inequality and a rising profit share for corporations and privileged individuals...Wolff's opus is deeply disturbing for the country. Accumulating wealth or even economic stability is no easier today than 50 or 60 years ago when I entered the workforce. Trump's tax act couldn't even eliminate the carried interest for hedge fund general partners.-- (01/08/2018)
For half a century, [Wolff] has studied American inequality, producing some of the field's most important works... Anyone interested in the changing distribution of income and wealth, and everyone should be, must read this book.--Gerald Friedman"Industrial and Labor Relations Review" (10/01/2018)