The surging stock market has helped younger generations grow wealth faster than older generations, according to a new analysis by the New York Federal Reserve.
The inflation-adjusted wealth for Americans under age 40 grew by an astounding 80% between Q1 2019 and Q3 2023. During the same time period, wealth for those aged 40 to 54 grew 10%, while wealth for those 55 and older grew 30%.
Despite that eye-popping growth, Americans younger than 40 still hold significantly less wealth than older Americans; by Q3 2023, they held $9.5 trillion, compared with $103.7 trillion for those 55 and older. But the increase in net worth since the pandemic, which outpaced that of older generations, helped slightly narrow that disparity. In 2019, those under 40—about 37% of the adult population—held 4.9% of total U.S. wealth. By 2023, that share crept up to 6.7%.
Though real estate prices have risen dramatically over the past four years, researchers at the Federal Reserve credit much of the 80% growth figure to other assets such as mutual funds and stocks. The growth was surprising to researchers at the Federal Reserve, who didn’t expect to see such gains for those under 40.
One of the reasons, according to the Fed’s report, is that at least some younger people were able to invest or save pandemic-era stimulus checks, which has helped grow their wealth relative to what it was pre-2020 (because they held so little wealth before, any gains look outsized). Additionally, young people are more likely to invest in equities than older Americans, and have benefitted from the growth in the stock market since 2019. That said, stock gains can always reverse.
“This shift in portfolio composition toward equities likely reflects the fact that younger adults, being farther away from retirement, can afford to invest in risky assets at a higher rate than older adults,” wrote researchers Rajashri Chakrabarti, Natalia Emanuel, and Ben Lahey.
The results still may be surprising to many, given the general malaise surrounding the economy. Still, data from other institutions has been in line with the Fed’s results: On the whole, wealth in the U.S. has been growing since the pandemic, particularly for those who own homes or invest in stocks.
Racial wealth inequality deepens
That said, a separate analysis by the NY Fed released Wednesday showed that though wealth is growing broadly, it’s not the same across racial and ethnic groups. In fact, inequality is growing, and was exacerbated by the pandemic.
Black Americans have seen their total wealth decline since 2019, whereas for white Americans it’s grown significantly. Black households, as a whole, are worse off than before the pandemic.
While wealth for white households grew 28% between Q1 2019 and Q3 2023, the cumulative net worth of Black families fell by 1.5%. For Hispanic households, it grew by 20%.
The report takes into account household assets including stocks and real estate, as well as liabilities. Much of the difference in wealth growth can be attributed to the different holdings between racial groups, the Fed notes. White Americans hold significantly more equities than do Black Americans, and have benefitted from surging markets. (Rising real estate prices, the researchers found, proved less of a factor.)
More than half of Black financial wealth is in pensions (including both defined benefit and defined contribution plans), while less than 20% is tied to private businesses, equities, and mutual funds. The reverse is true for white Americans: Less than 30% of their wealth is invested in pensions while half is invested in businesses, equities, and mutual funds.
“The groups with more exposure to businesses, equities, and mutual funds experienced much faster financial asset growth since the first quarter of 2019 as much of the period was associated with substantive appreciation of these specific asset values,” the researchers wrote.