ABOUT THIS BOOK
It is widely acknowledged that over the last several decades wealth has become more concentrated at the very top. Less appreciated is the fact that wealth inequality is increasing across all households: extremely wealthy households are pulling away from the top, top households are pulling away from the middle, and middle households are pulling away from the bottom. This development has far-reaching implications for nearly all aspects of the economic and social lives of Americans. In this issue of RSF, edited by Fabian T. Pfeffer and Robert F. Schoeni, leading social scientists investigate the causes of wealth inequality and explore its consequences for social mobility, racial equity, education, marriage, and family well-being.
Several contributors investigate the growing chasm in wealth between the rich and the middle class. Edward Wolff attributes much of the recent wealth loss among the middle class to the housing market crash, as housing accounts for a much greater share of their total wealth than it does for the rich. Jonathan Fisher and coauthors show that wealth inequality is far higher than inequality in income and consumption, and argue that because wealth acts as a buffer to income changes, it is perhaps the most relevant measure of economic inequality. Others explore the persistent racial wealth gap. Alexandra Killewald and Brielle Bryan show that the average wealth return on home ownership for African Americans is only a quarter of the return for whites. Bryan Sykes and Michelle Maroto find that the incarceration of a family member is associated with reduced family wealth, exacerbating the racial wealth gap because of racial disparities in incarceration.
Other articles focus on the effects of wealth inequality on families and relationships. Emily Rauscher finds that that parents’ financial support for their children’s education, which has positive effects on children’s educational attainment, is increasingly connected to parental wealth, tightening the link between wealth inequality and inequality of opportunity. And Alicia Eads and Laura Tach find that while greater family wealth is associated with more stable marriages, lack of wealth—particularly in the form of unsecured debt—is associated with marital instability.
As wealth inequality has increased, it is increasingly important to understand its origins and manifold social and economic consequences for current and future generations.