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Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances

The Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for 2010 provides insights into changes in family income and net worth since the 2007 survey.1 The survey shows that, over the 2007-10 period, the median value of real (inflation-adjusted) family income before taxes fell 7.7 percent; median income had also fallen slightly in the preceding three-year period (figure 1). The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups experiencing stable or rising incomes. Most noticeably, median incomes moved higher for retirees and other nonworking families. The decline in median income was most pronounced among more highly educated families, families headed by persons aged less than 55, and families living in the South and West Regions. Real mean income fell even more than median income in the recent period, by 11.1 percent across all families. The decline in mean income was even more widespread than the decline in median income, with virtually all demographic groups experiencing a decline between 2007 and 2010; the decline in the mean was most pronounced in the top 10 percent of the income distribution and for higher education or wealth groups. Over the preceding three years, mean income had risen, especially for high-net-worth families and families headed by a person who was self-employed.

Figure 1. Change in median and mean incomes, 2001-10 SCF
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Note: Changes are based on inflation-adjusted dollars.

Source: Federal Reserve Board, Survey of Consumer Finances.

The decreases in family income over the 2007-10 period were substantially smaller than the declines in both median and mean net worth; overall, median net worth fell 38.8 percent, and the mean fell 14.7 percent (figure 2). Median net worth fell for most groups between 2007 and 2010, and the decline in the median was almost always larger than the decline in the mean. The exceptions to this pattern in the medians and means are seen in the highest 10 percent of the distributions of income and net worth, where changes in the median were relatively muted. Although declines in the values of financial assets or business were important factors for some families, the decreases in median net worth appear to have been driven most strongly by a broad collapse in house prices.2 This collapse is reflected in the patterns of change in net worth across demographic groups to varying degrees, depending on the rate of homeownership and the proportion of assets invested in housing. The decline in median net worth was especially large for families in groups where housing was a larger share of assets, such as families headed by someone 35 to 44 years old (median net worth fell 54.4 percent) and families in the West Region (median net worth fell 55.3 percent).

Figure 2. Change in median and mean net worth, 2001-10 SCF
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Note: Changes are based on inflation-adjusted dollars.

Source: Federal Reserve Board, Survey of Consumer Finances.

 

 

A substantial part of the declines observed in net worth over the 2007-10 period can be associated with decreases in the level of unrealized capital gains on families' assets. The share of total assets of all families attributable to unrealized capital gains from real estate, businesses, stocks, or mutual funds fell 11.6 percentage points, to 24.5 percent in 2010. Although the overall level of debt owed by families was basically unchanged, debt as a percentage of assets rose because the value of the underlying assets (especially housing) decreased faster.

With overall median and mean debt basically unchanged or falling less than income, measures of debt payments relative to income might have been expected to increase. In fact, total payments relative to total income increased only slightly, and the median of payments relative to income among families with debt fell after having risen between 2004 and 2007. The share of families with high payments relative to their incomes also fell after rising substantially between 2001 and 2007.

This article reviews these and other changes in the financial condition of U.S. families between 2007 and 2010.3 The discussion draws on data from the Federal Reserve Board's SCF for those years; it also uses evidence from other years of the survey and a special panel SCF conducted from 2007 to 2009 to place the 2007-10 changes in a broader context.

Box 1. The Data Used in This Article

Data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) are the basis of the analysis presented in this article. The SCF is normally a triennial interview survey of U.S. families sponsored by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Since 1992, data for the SCF have been collected by NORC, a research organization at the University of Chicago, roughly between May and December of each survey year.

The majority of statistics included in this article are related to characteristics of "families." As used here, this term is more comparable with the U.S. Census Bureau definition of "households" than with its use of "families," which excludes the possibility of one-person families. The appendix provides full definitions of "family" for the SCF and the associated family "head." The survey collects information on families' total income before taxes for the calendar year preceding the survey. But the bulk of the data cover the status of families as of the time of the interview, including detailed information on their balance sheets and use of financial services as well as on their pensions, labor force participation, and demographic characteristics. Except in a small number of instances (see the appendix and the text for details), the survey questionnaire has changed in only minor ways relevant to this article since 1989, and every effort has been made to ensure the maximum degree of comparability of the data over time.

The need to measure financial characteristics imposes special requirements on the sample design for the survey. The SCF is expected to provide reliable information both on attributes that are broadly distributed in the population (such as homeownership) and on those that are highly concentrated in a relatively small part of the population (such as closely held businesses). To address this requirement, the SCF employs a sample design, essentially unchanged since 1989, consisting of two parts: a standard, geographically based random sample and a special oversample of relatively wealthy families. Weights are used to combine information from the two samples to make estimates for the full population. In the 2010 survey, 6,492 families were interviewed, and in the 2007 survey, 4,421 were interviewed.

This article draws principally upon the final data from the 2010 and 2007 surveys. To provide a larger context, some information is also included from the final versions of earlier surveys, as well as a panel interview in 2009 with respondents to the 2007 survey. 1Differences between estimates from earlier surveys as reported here and as reported in earlier Federal Reserve Bulletin articles are attributable to additional statistical processing, correction of minor data errors, revisions to the survey weights, conceptual changes in the definitions of variables used in the articles, and adjustments for inflation. In this article, all dollar amounts from the SCF are adjusted to 2010 dollars using the "current methods" version of the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U-RS). The appendix provides additional detail on the adjustments.

The principal detailed tables describing asset and debt holdings focus on the percentage of various groups that have such items and the median holding for those who have them.2 This conditional median is chosen to give a sense of the "typical" holding. Generally, when one deals with data that exhibit very large values for a relatively small part of the population--as is the case for many of the items considered in this article--estimates of the median are often statistically less sensitive to such outliers than are estimates of the mean.

One liability of using the median as a descriptive device is that medians are not additive; that is, the sum of the medians of two items for the same population is not generally equal to the median of the sum (for example, median assets less median liabilities does not equal median net worth). In contrast, means for a common population are additive. Where a comparable median and mean are given, the gain or loss of the mean relative to the median may usually be taken as indicative of the relative change at the top of the distribution; for example, when the mean decreases more rapidly than the median, it is typically taken to indicate that the values in the top of the distribution fell more than those in the lower part of the distribution.

To provide a measure of the significance of the developments discussed in this article, standard errors due to sampling and imputation for missing data are given for selected estimates. Space limits prevent the inclusion of the standard errors for all estimates. Although we do not directly address the statistical significance of the results, the article highlights findings that are significant or are interesting in a broader context.

1. Additional information about the survey is available at www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/scf/scf_2010.htm. Return to text

2. The median of a distribution is defined as the value at which equal parts of the population considered have values larger or smaller. Return to text

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Economic Background

Families' finances are affected by both their own decisions and the state of the broader economy. Over the 2007-10 period, the U.S. economy experienced its most substantial downturn since the Great Depression. Real gross domestic product (GDP) fell nearly 5.1 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009, the official period of recession as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. During the same period, the unemployment rate rose from 5.0 percent to 9.5 percent, the highest level since 1983. Recovery from the so-called Great Recession has also been particularly slow; real GDP did not return to pre-recession levels until the third quarter of 2011. The unemployment rate continued to rise through the third quarter of 2009 and remained over 9.4 percent during 2010. The rate of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U-RS), decreased somewhat over the period from an annual average of 2.8 percent in 2007 to 1.6 percent in 2010.

Financial markets moved dramatically over the three-year period. Major stock market indexes fell nearly 50 percent between September 2007 and March 2009, but about one-half of the losses in indexes such as the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard & Poor's 500, and the Wilshire 5000 had been recouped by September 2010. Interest rates on new consumer loans generally fell; for example, the interest rate on a new 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.38 percent in September 2007, when about one-half of the interviews for the 2007 survey had been completed, and the average rate was 4.35 percent three years later in September 2010. Yields fell dramatically on liquid deposits, time deposits, and bonds; for example, the rate on a three-month certificate of deposit (CD) fell from an average of 5.46 percent in September 2007 to 0.28 percent in September 2010.

Housing was of greater importance than financial assets for the wealth position of most families. The national purchase-only LoanPerformance Home Price Index produced by First American CoreLogic fell 22.4 percent between September 2007 and September 2010, by which point house prices were fully 27.5 percent below the peak achieved in April 2006. The decline in house prices was most rapid in the states where the boom had been greatest. For example, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida saw declines of 40 to 50 percent, while Iowa saw a decline of only about 1 percent. Homeownership rates fell over the period, in part because some families found it impossible to continue to afford their homes. By 2010, the homeownership rate was back down to a level last seen in the 2001 SCF, although that was still higher than in any previous SCF since at least 1989.

The Congress and the President responded to the economic situation with several legislative measures, some of which had an immediate effect on family finances, and some of which were intended to help prevent future crises. For example, in order to boost family after-tax incomes, the 2001 and 2003 income tax reductions originally scheduled to expire in 2010 were extended. In addition, employee payroll taxes earmarked for Social Security were reduced. In another move aimed at offsetting the decline in economic activity, the Troubled Asset Relief Program allowed government infusion of equity into stressed financial institutions. Lawmakers also responded to the economic crisis by attempting to curtail practices that disproportionately affected vulnerable consumers, practices that some argued had contributed to the crisis. Most notably, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in July 2010, contained prohibitions on certain lending practices and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Several demographic shifts had important consequences for the structure of the population. The aging of the baby-boom population from 2007 to 2010 drove an 11.0 percent increase in the population aged 55 to 64. Overall population growth was about 2.7 percent, and, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.5 percent of that growth was due to net immigration. Also according to Census Bureau estimates, the number of households increased 1.2 percent--below the 2.3 percent rate of household formation between 2004 and 2007. With the population growing more rapidly than household formation, the average number of persons per household rose slightly from 2.59 people in 2007 to 2.63 in 2010.

The vast majority of interviews for the 2010 SCF were completed in 2010, but some were completed in early 2011. Thus, the survey data are largely unaffected by changes in economic activity since 2011--in particular, the rise in the market price of corporate equities, the relative stabilization of house prices, and the start of a decline in the unemployment rate.

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Income

The change in real before-tax family income between 2007 and 2010 diverged sharply from the patterns seen in recent surveys.4 Both median and mean income fell sharply, though the drop in the median (7.7 percent) was smaller than the drop in the mean (11.1 percent) (table 1).5 Over the preceding three-year period, the median had been basically unchanged, and the mean had risen 8.5 percent. The changes for both periods stand in stark contrast to a pattern of substantial increases in both the median and the mean dating to the early 1990s.

Underlying the recent change was a shift in the composition of income between 2007 and 2010 (table 2). The share of family income attributable to realized capital gains fell from 6.7 percent in 2007 to only 0.9 percent in 2010; income from businesses, farms, and self-employment accounted for only 12.2 percent of income in 2010, down from 13.6 percent in 2007.

Table 1. Before-tax family income, percentage of families that saved, and distribution of families, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys
Thousands of 2010 dollars except as noted
Family characteristic 2001 2004
Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families
Median Mean Median Mean
All families 48.9 83.3 59.2 100.0 49.8 81.4 56.1 100.0
(1.0) (2.4) (1.0) (1.4)
Percentile of income
Less than 20 12.6 12.3 30.0 20.0 12.8 12.4 34.0 20.0
20-39.9 29.9 29.6 53.4 20.0 29.5 30.0 43.3 20.0
40-59.9 48.9 49.4 61.3 20.0 49.8 50.0 54.5 20.0
60-79.9 79.4 79.9 72.0 20.0 78.5 79.6 69.3 20.0
80-89.9 120.9 120.2 74.9 10.0 120.5 122.6 77.8 10.0
90-100 207.8 371.0 84.3 10.0 212.7 347.7 80.6 10.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 40.9 54.2 52.9 22.7 37.8 51.9 55.0 22.2
35-44 63.0 94.5 62.3 22.3 57.5 85.0 58.0 20.6
45-54 66.8 114.2 61.7 20.6 70.3 108.6 58.5 20.8
55-64 55.4 106.5 62.0 13.2 62.6 115.5 58.5 15.2
65-74 34.0 71.3 61.8 10.7 38.4 68.7 57.1 10.5
75 or more 27.4 45.0 55.5 10.4 27.3 47.1 45.7 10.7
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 27.7 36.0 45.2 11.4 29.5 37.7 39.8 12.1
Single, no child, age less than 55 35.3 49.4 55.8 15.1 33.3 45.2 52.8 15.3
Single, no child, age 55 or more 20.8 39.9 49.5 13.2 24.5 39.2 45.9 14.6
Couple with child(ren) 76.5 115.0 61.9 31.1 75.6 113.9 61.7 31.7
Couple, no child 63.0 105.3 68.1 29.2 67.4 107.0 64.4 26.3
Education of head
No high school diploma 20.8 30.8 38.7 16.0 22.3 29.8 35.9 14.4
High school diploma 41.6 54.9 56.7 31.7 41.1 51.5 54.0 30.6
Some college 50.1 68.0 61.7 18.3 47.3 64.5 51.0 18.4
College degree 83.1 142.9 70.0 34.0 84.4 135.3 68.3 36.6

Note: For questions on income, respondents were asked to base their answers on the calendar year preceding the interview. For questions on saving, respondents were asked to base their answers on the 12 months preceding the interview. Percentage distributions may not sum to 100 because of rounding. Dollars have been converted to 2010 values with the current-methods consumer price index for all urban consumers (see the box "The Data Used in This Article"). See the appendix for details on standard errors (shown in parentheses below the first row of data for the means and medians here and in table 4) and for definitions of family and family head.

Offsetting these declines in shares, the share of income from wages and salaries rose 3.6 percentage points; that of Social Security, pension, or other retirement income rose 2.4 percentage points; and that of transfers or other income rose 1.3 percentage points. The share of income from interest or dividends was little changed. The decline in the share of capital gains was largest among the wealthiest 10 percent of families. As shown in the table, wage income tends to be a smaller factor for the highest wealth group.

Some patterns of income distribution hold generally across the years of SCF data shown in table 1.6 Across age classes, 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.

Table 1. Before-tax family income, percentage of families that saved, and distribution of families, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys-- continued
Thousands of 2010 dollars except as noted
Family characteristic 2001 2004
Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families
Median Mean Median Mean
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 55.4 94.3 63.1 75.4 56.9 92.9 60.1 72.2
Nonwhite or Hispanic 31.5 49.9 47.4 24.6 34.3 51.7 45.6 27.8
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 57.9 82.5 61.6 60.9 56.7 80.7 59.2 60.1
Self-employed 77.6 169.5 70.4 11.7 76.8 162.9 68.7 11.8
Retired 25.7 49.0 50.5 23.0 28.1 49.7 44.0 23.7
Other not working 20.4 44.9 42.7 4.5 23.6 43.0 44.9 4.4
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 87.2 153.4 72.4 27.1 88.9 147.6 67.7 28.3
Technical, sales, or services 44.1 65.3 58.2 23.7 43.1 61.1 55.4 22.1
Other occupation 50.4 60.0 56.6 21.8 52.0 58.3 57.3 21.6
Retired or other not working 25.4 48.3 49.2 27.4 27.4 48.7 44.1 28.1
Region
Northeast 50.6 95.2 58.1 19.0 58.5 100.7 59.5 18.8
Midwest 53.8 79.3 63.0 23.0 52.0 77.7 59.9 22.9
South 44.1 75.2 57.3 36.2 42.5 71.3 52.5 36.3
West 49.9 90.7 59.5 21.8 53.2 85.8 55.2 22.0
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 50.4 88.7 59.7 86.2 53.2 88.5 56.9 82.9
Non-MSA 37.0 50.2 56.3 13.8 34.4 47.2 52.3 17.1
Housing status
Owner 63.8 104.3 66.7 67.7 63.5 100.6 62.3 69.1
Renter or other 30.2 39.5 43.6 32.3 28.4 38.8 42.3 30.9
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 24.1 29.4 34.5 25.0 23.6 28.8 34.7 25.0
25-49.9 42.8 48.5 54.2 25.0 42.5 48.5 53.7 25.0
50-74.9 62.6 72.2 68.2 25.0 60.3 69.8 62.1 25.0
75-89.9 85.3 96.3 77.4 15.0 88.6 101.2 72.6 15.0
90-100 155.0 313.8 84.1 10.0 165.4 294.6 76.0 10.0

Couples (families in which the family head was either married or living with a partner) tend to have higher incomes than single persons, in part because couples have more potential wage earners. 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 any lesser amount of schooling. Incomes of white non-Hispanic families are substantially higher than those of other families.7 Families headed by a self-employed worker consistently have the highest median and mean incomes of all work-status groups. Families headed by a person in a managerial or professional occupation have higher incomes than families in the three remaining occupation categories. Income is also higher for homeowners than for other families, and it is progressively higher for groups with greater net worth.8 Across the four Regions of the country as defined by the Census Bureau, the ordering of median incomes over time has varied, but the means generally show higher values for the Northeast and the West than for the Midwest and the South. Finally, families living in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which are relatively urban areas, have higher median and mean incomes than those living in rural areas.9


Table 1. Before-tax family income, percentage of families that saved, and distribution of families, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys-- continued
Thousands of 2010 dollars except as noted
Family characteristic 2007 2010
Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families
Median Mean Median Mean
All families 49.6 88.3 56.4 100.0 45.8 78.5 52.0 100.0
(.8) (1.4) (.6) (1.2)
Percentile of income
Less than 20 12.9 12.9 33.7 20.0 13.4 12.9 32.3 20.0
20-39.9 30.1 29.7 45.0 20.0 28.1 27.9 43.4 20.0
40-59.9 49.6 49.5 57.8 20.0 45.8 46.3 49.8 20.0
60-79.9 78.7 80.2 66.8 20.0 71.7 73.6 60.1 20.0
80-89.9 119.5 121.6 72.9 10.0 112.8 114.6 67.7 10.0
90-100 216.8 416.6 84.8 10.0 205.3 349.0 80.9 10.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 39.2 54.2 58.9 21.6 35.1 47.7 54.6 21.0
35-44 59.3 87.7 56.4 19.6 53.9 81.0 47.6 18.2
45-54 67.2 117.8 55.8 20.8 61.0 102.2 51.8 21.1
55-64 57.2 116.5 58.4 16.8 55.1 105.8 51.4 17.5
65-74 40.8 96.8 56.7 10.5 42.7 75.8 53.6 11.5
75 or more 23.9 47.9 49.4 10.6 29.1 46.1 54.1 10.7
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 30.2 44.1 41.6 12.2 29.5 39.4 38.2 12.0
Single, no child, age less than 55 35.5 49.4 54.9 14.0 30.5 42.4 49.8 14.7
Single, no child, age 55 or more 25.8 38.4 48.5 14.9 24.2 39.6 45.4 15.2
Couple with child(ren) 74.6 118.4 60.1 31.8 67.7 109.4 52.8 31.6
Couple, no child 64.6 120.5 64.0 27.1 61.8 101.7 62.2 26.5
Education of head
No high school diploma 23.2 32.8 41.6 13.5 23.0 33.7 36.9 12.0
High school diploma 38.5 53.6 51.1 32.9 36.6 48.1 47.4 32.2
Some college 47.8 71.3 53.6 18.4 42.9 58.7 49.5 18.6
College degree 81.9 150.7 68.6 35.3 73.8 128.9 62.0 37.3

Income by Demographic Category

Across the income distribution between 2007 and 2010, only the lowest quintile did not experience a substantial reduction in median income; the median for that group rose $500.10 For other groups, the median decreased between 5.3 percent and 8.9 percent between 2007 and 2010. Similarly, for all income groups except the lowest quintile, the direction of changes in mean income was uniformly negative, with decreases ranging from a 5.8 percent drop for the second-highest decile to a 16.2 percent drop for the top decile. The disproportion between changes in median and mean incomes for the top decile (a 5.3 percent drop in the median, compared with a 16.2 percent decline in the mean) establishes a theme that is repeated for income changes for many other groups considered in this article. Often, such a difference between the changes in a median and a mean is taken to indicate relative compression of higher values in the distribution.


Table 1. Before-tax family income, percentage of families that saved, and distribution of families, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys-- continued
Thousands of 2010 dollars except as noted
Family characteristic 2007 2010
Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families Income Percentage of families that saved Percentage of families
Median Mean Median Mean
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 54.3 101.6 58.8 70.7 52.9 90.1 55.8 67.5
Nonwhite or Hispanic 38.6 56.2 50.8 29.3 34.6 54.4 44.0 32.5
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 59.3 87.1 60.3 59.9 55.9 84.2 55.2 56.9
Self-employed 79.3 201.0 62.8 10.5 64.5 149.9 55.1 11.4
Retired 25.9 53.5 46.6 25.0 29.1 44.4 47.3 24.9
Other not working 21.3 37.1 45.3 4.6 23.9 36.3 37.0 6.8
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 89.4 163.6 70.2 27.5 81.3 148.7 62.9 27.7
Technical, sales, or services 46.3 70.8 55.6 21.8 42.0 59.5 49.0 21.7
Other occupation 51.7 60.7 53.6 21.1 50.0 57.3 51.1 18.8
Retired or other not working 24.9 51.0 46.4 29.6 27.4 42.7 45.1 31.7
Region
Northeast 53.9 105.2 53.5 18.3 53.7 99.2 50.8 18.3
Midwest 46.3 78.5 58.2 22.9 46.5 70.9 57.2 22.4
South 45.0 83.1 56.9 36.7 40.7 71.5 49.8 37.1
West 54.4 92.9 56.3 22.1 48.8 80.8 51.4 22.2
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 52.8 95.6 57.0 82.9 48.8 84.8 51.7 82.7
Non-MSA 37.8 52.6 54.0 17.1 36.7 48.2 53.3 17.3
Housing status
Owner 64.6 110.7 60.9 68.6 59.6 98.3 56.5 67.3
Renter or other 29.1 39.3 46.7 31.4 26.1 37.9 42.7 32.7
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 24.6 30.5 40.5 25.0 23.7 32.6 32.2 25.0
25-49.9 43.1 48.7 52.8 25.0 37.9 45.5 48.4 25.0
50-74.9 59.5 69.8 59.1 25.0 54.9 63.3 56.8 25.0
75-89.9 86.2 97.4 68.9 15.0 74.5 89.0 66.9 15.0
90-100 165.5 364.2 80.4 10.0 163.2 297.9 76.1 10.0

The decline in mean incomes in the top decile between 2007 and 2010 stands in stark contrast to the generally steady pattern of rising mean incomes at the top of the income distribution over the past two decades. Indeed, the only other decreases in mean income observed for the top decile occurred in the periods 1989 to 1992 and 2001 to 2004, when the recovery from earlier recessions was affecting families broadly.

Every age group less than 55 saw decreases in median income of between 9.1 and 10.5 percent, while families headed by a person between 65 and 74 or 75 or more saw increases at the median. In contrast to the changes at the medians, the means fell for all age groups but especially for the 65-to-74 age group (a decline of 21.7 percent). In almost every age group, the decline in the mean was greater than the decline in the median.

Table 2. Amount of before-tax family income, distributed by income sources, by percentile of net worth, 2007 and 2010 surveys
Percent
Income source Percentile of net worth All families
Less than 25 25-49.9 50-74.9 75-89.9 90-100
2007 Survey of Consumer Finances
Wages 79.9 80.0 77.7 72.3 46.2 64.5
Interest or dividends .1 .3 .7 1.9 7.8 3.7
Business, farm, self-employment 1.8 5.3 6.9 7.9 24.7 13.6
Capital gains .1 .4 1.3 2.9 14.4 6.7
Social Security or retirement 9.5 10.9 11.8 14.2 6.2 9.6
Transfers or other 8.6 3.2 1.6 .8 .7 1.9
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
2010 Survey of Consumer Finances
Wages 75.9 80.7 76.3 69.7 55.8 68.1
Interest or dividends .1 .1 .4 1.6 8.7 3.6
Business, farm, self-employment 3.5 4.6 4.8 7.2 23.9 12.2
Capital gains .1 .2 .1 -.2 2.3 .9
Social Security or retirement 9.4 9.6 15.9 20.1 7.8 12.0
Transfers or other 11.1 4.7 2.5 1.7 1.5 3.2
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

By family structure, median incomes declined over the 2007-10 period for all groups, but most notably (negative 14.1 percent) for childless single families (those headed by a person who was neither married nor living with a partner) headed by a person aged less than 55; median income fell the least (2.3 percent) for single families with children. Mean income also fell for most types of families, except childless single families headed by a person aged 55 or older, for whom it rose 3.1 percent. Mean income of childless couples fell the most of all families, when grouped by family structure (15.6 percent).

In 2010, both median and mean incomes rose substantially with educational attainment, with incomes among the group holding a college degree being more than three times as high as among those with less than a high school diploma, and at least twice as high as among those with only a high school diploma. Between 2007 and 2010, however, the decreases in incomes were much larger for the higher education groups, and mean income actually rose for the no-high-school-diploma group (albeit from the much lower starting point). This pattern of change reversed the relatively faster growth of mean income for higher-educated families that had occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Over the 2007-10 period, the median income for white non-Hispanic families fell 2.6 percent, and the mean fell 11.3 percent. In contrast, the median for nonwhite or Hispanic families fell 10.4 percent, while the mean fell 3.2 percent. However, both the median and the mean values for nonwhites or Hispanics in both years were substantially lower than the corresponding figures for non-Hispanic whites. Since 1998, the total gain in median income for nonwhite or Hispanic families was 11.3 percent, whereas it was 3.9 percent for other families; the gain in the mean over this period was larger for both groups--22.8 percent for nonwhite or Hispanic families and 14.1 percent for other families.11

Box 2. Cross-Sectional Data and Changes in Group Composition over Time

A cross-sectional survey of the sort discussed in this article describes the state of a sample of families at a given point in time. Thus, when comparison is made of changes for groups of people in families in such surveys over time, it is important to consider the degree to which interpretation of the data may be a function of changes in membership in those groups over time. Some classifications, such as ones based on race or ethnicity, may be fixed characteristics of individuals, but the overall populations of such groups may still change over time through births or deaths, through immigration or emigration, or in other ways. Some classifications, including those based on age, may change in a way that is mostly predictable. But other classifications--for example, ones based on economic characteristics such as income or wealth--may vary over time for substantial fractions of families.

Gathering data on the same set of families over time in a panel survey is an alternative way to understand changes for groups of families determined as of a baseline period. To address the effects on families of the period of financial turmoil between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve undertook a survey in 2009 that was intended to re-interview the panel of families that had participated in the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for which the family head or that person's spouse or partner was still alive and still living in the United States. This panel survey provides detailed information on changes in a wide variety of characteristics of families over this two-year period. 1Although the panel survey can only be used to look at the first two years of the period covered by the cross-sectional surveys reported in detail in this article, it can provide a useful indication of the degree to which the movement of families across groups was important for the interpretation of the changes observed between the 2007 and 2010 cross-sectional SCFs.

Family income is one item for which variation over time might be expected, particularly over a period of severe recession. The panel data make it possible to track the movement of families across income groups between 2007 and 2009 (table A). The data show substantial movement across income groups during the two-year period. 2For example, 69.4 percent of families with incomes in the bottom quintile of the distribution in 2009 also had incomes in the bottom quintile in 2007 (indicated by the bold font along the diagonal). The remaining fraction of families in the lowest income group in 2009 had experienced higher incomes in 2007; in 2007, 19.1 percent were in the second quintile group, 6.7 percent were in the third quintile group, 3.0 percent were in the fourth quintile group, and 1.9 percent were in the highest quintile group.


Table A. Movement of families across the income distribution between 2007 and 2009
Percentile of income in 2007 Percentile of income in 2009
Less than 20 20-39.9 40-59.9 60-79.9 80-100
Less than 20 69.4 22.0 5.4 2.1 1.1
20-39.9 19.1 48.9 23.5 6.5 2.0
40-59.9 6.7 21.4 45.1 22.9 4.0
60-79.9 3.0 6.5 22.4 50.3 17.8
80-100 1.9 1.2 3.5 18.3 75.1
All 100 100 100 100 100

Note: Figures in bold along the diagonal show the fraction of families in the given 2007 quintile group that were in the same quintile group in 2009.

The movements of families across income groups in two years was more substantial for the three central percentile groups than for families with incomes in the two extreme groups, in part because families in one of the extreme groups could move in only one direction. Among families in the second, third, and fourth income quintile groups in 2009, only about half had been in the same group in 2007. The income group with the highest persistence of membership across the two years was the top quintile; among families in 2009 whose income was high enough to be in the top quintile, 75.1 percent had also had incomes in the top quintile in 2007.

Tracking changes, such as these shifts in income, for a given population over time is interesting in its own right, but that information may also have important implications for interpreting changes in a given measure, including mean net worth, for groups defined using cross-sectional data. When there is a rearrangement of families across such groups over time and estimates for the groups are affected by that change in composition, the estimates are said to reflect "composition effects." In light of the large economic shifts in the overall economy during the time covered by the cross-sectional surveys discussed in this body of this article, movements of families across some categories may be particularly important.

One such example is the effect of changes in the composition of the lowest income decile from 2007 to 2009 on estimates of the group median of net worth for 2009. The panel data make it possible to decompose this effect directly, by looking at the 2009 medians of the members of this group, but with the families separated based on their 2007 income group (table B). The overall median net worth for the lowest income quintile in 2009 was $10,000. Among families in the lowest quintile group in 2009, those who were also in the group in 2007 had median net worth in 2009 of $4,500, those who were in the second quintile group in 2007 had median net worth in 2009 of $19,200, those who were in the third quintile group in 2007 had median net worth in 2009 of $32,000, and those in the two higher quintile groups in 2007 had progressively higher median net worth in 2009--up to $740,500 for the top quintile group. The second and third of these groups constituted over one-fourth of the lowest 2009 quintile group. The median net worth of families exiting the lowest income quintile between 2007 and 2009 was $13,300 (data not shown in the tables). The higher medians of the families entering this group between 2007 and 2009 helped push up the overall median net worth of the group for 2009.


Table B. Net worth of families in the lowest income quintile in 2009, sorted by their income ranking in 2007
Percentile of income in 2007 Median net worth
Less than 20 4,500
20-39.9 19,200
40-59.9 32,000
60-79.9 166,700
80-100 740,500
All 10,000

Of course, the 2007 income group in this example may also have incorporated composition effects relative to some other point of reference. If the movement of families across income groups over time took place according to a constant pattern, the 2007 and 2009 cross-sectional estimates might have comparable composition. Given the nature of the recession over this period and the evidence on unusual income presented in the body of the article, that possibility seems unlikely.

Composition effects may vary across categories, outcomes of interest, and time periods. For example, consider a very narrowly held asset or liability whose ownership is dominated by families whose income is usuallyrelatively high, as tends to be the case for directly held stocks. The median value for directly held stocks in a given income quintile might be sensitive to the fraction of families in that income quintile whose usualincome was different from their current income. If, as in the 2009 panel interview, there was a substantial fraction of families in the lowest quintile group whose income was usuallymuch higher, those families might bring with them ownership rates and values for stock holdings that were generally higher than those for families whose incomes are usuallylow. The 2010 SCF cross-sectional data indicate that ownership rates or median values for some narrowly held financial assets for lower-income families seem to have risen between 2007 and 2010. In light of the available evidence, a more likely explanation seems to be that some such changes in ownership or median values were substantially affected by the sorts of compositional effects described here.

1. See Jesse Bricker, Brian Bucks, Arthur Kennickell, Traci Mach, and Kevin Moore (2011), "Surveying the Aftermath of the Storm: Changes in Family Finances from 2007 to 2009," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2011-17 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, March) ; and Arthur B. Kennickell (2012), "Tossed and Turned: Wealth Dynamics of U.S. Households 2007-2009," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2011-51 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, January; paper dated November 7, 2011) . Return to text

2. The table shows equal-sized percentile groups, the highest of which comprises two percentile groups used in the analysis presented in the article. Of the families with incomes in the 80th-to-90th percentiles of the distribution in 2009, 49.0 percent were in the same group in 2007, 38.3 percent were in one of the bottom four groups shown in the table, and 12.6 percent had incomes between the 90th and 100th percentiles. Of the families with incomes in the 90th-to-100th percentiles of the distribution in 2009, 71.4 percent were in the same group in 2007, 11.4 percent were in one of the bottom four groups shown in the table, and 17.2 percent had incomes between the 80th and 90th percentiles. Return to text

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Median income fell 5.7 percent from 2007 to 2010 for families headed by a person who was working for someone else, but it fell much more (18.7 percent) for those who were self-employed; the median rose 12.4 percent for the retired group and 12.2 percent for the other-not-working group.12 The mean over this period fell for all groups, especially for the self-employed group (a decrease of 25.4 percent) and the retired group (a decrease of 17.0 percent). Over the previous three years, median incomes had fallen for the retired and the other-not-working groups but had risen for the two worker groups.

Across occupation groups, median income fell most in proportional terms (9.3 percent) for families headed by a person working in a technical, sales, or service job. Although the percentage drop for families headed by a person in a managerial or professional position was only slightly smaller (9.1 percent), the dollar amount of their decline was much larger because their 2007 median income was much higher. For the other-occupation group, a group that predominantly comprises workers in traditional blue-collar occupations, the median fell only 3.3 percent. Consistent with evidence for age or current-work-status groups, median income for families headed by retirees increased 10.0 percent. In contrast, mean income decreased for all occupation groups, but especially for the technical, sales, or service occupation groups, for whom the mean fell 16.0 percent, and for the retired and other-not-working group, for whom the mean fell 16.3 percent.

By Region, median family incomes in the Northeast and the Midwest were little changed between 2007 and 2010, while the medians in the West and the South decreased substantially. Those changes in medians stand in contrast to what occurred during the period from 2004 to 2007, when median incomes fell in the Northeast and Midwest but increased in the West and South. These income changes by Region mirror the Regional pattern of home price changes across the two time periods. During the final years of the housing boom, which disproportionately affected the West and South, median incomes were rising in those Regions but falling elsewhere. During the subsequent housing bust, which also disproportionately affected those areas, median incomes were falling there but rising elsewhere. Mean incomes declined across all four Regions between 2007 and 2010, though the changes were largest for the South and West.

In the recent three-year period, families living in an MSA saw a 7.6 percent decline in median income, while those living in other, less urbanized areas saw a decrease of 2.9 percent. Mean income also fell for both types of area--by 11.3 percent for families living in an MSA and by 8.4 percent for those living in other areas.

By housing status, median and mean incomes fell from 2007 to 2010 both for homeowners and for other families. The percentage decrease in median income for homeowners (7.7 percent) matched the percentage decrease in the overall family median reported earlier (7.7 percent), while the decrease for renter and other families (10.3 percent) was greater. Mean income declined for both groups, but particularly for homeowners--11.2 percent for homeowners, versus 3.6 percent for other families. As noted later in this article, homeownership continued the decline that began between the 2004 and 2007 surveys after rising for several years prior to that.13

By percentile of net worth, median income fell for every group, with the smallest decline occurring for the top 10 percent of wealth holders, for whom income fell 1.4 percent. The decline in median income was also relatively small for the lowest quartile, for which the median fell 3.7 percent; the median declined most for the middle income groups (12.1 percent for the second quartile, 7.7 percent for the third quartile, and 13.6 percent for the group between the 75th and 90th percentiles).14 The pattern of changes in the mean by net worth group was somewhat different, with mean income in the bottom quartile rising 6.9 percent and the mean income in the top decile falling 18.2 percent. This differential pattern may be attributable in part to composition effects. For example, some families with incomes sufficient to support a relatively large home mortgage may have lost enough of their home equity over the three-year period for them to have been pushed into the lowest wealth group, where their incomes would be relatively large.

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Income Variability

For a given family, income at a particular time may not be indicative of its "usual" income. Unemployment, a bonus, a capital loss or gain, or other factors may cause income to deviate temporarily from the usual amount. Although the SCF is normally a cross-sectional survey, it does provide some information on income variability. In 2010, 25.3 percent of families reported that their income for the preceding year was unusually low, whereas only 14.4 percent of families had reported unusually low income in 2007. In contrast, only 6.0 percent of families reported that their income was unusually high, down from 9.2 percent in 2007 (data not shown in the tables). For those reporting unusual income in either direction, the median deviation of actual income from the usual amount was negative 27.4 percent of the normal level; the same statistic was negative 22.0 percent in 2007.

Although a family's income may vary, such variability may be a well-recognized part of its financial planning. The SCF data over the recent three-year period show some increase in the families' uncertainty about their future income. In 2010, 35.1 percent of families reported that they did not have a good idea of what their income would be for the next year, and 29.0 percent reported that they do not usually have a good idea of their next year's income. The corresponding figures for 2007 were lower, at 31.4 percent and 27.2 percent, respectively.

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Saving

Because saving out of current income is an important determinant of family net worth, the SCF asks respondents whether, over the preceding year, the family's spending was less than, more than, or about equal to its income. Though only qualitative, the answers are a useful indicator of whether families are saving. Asking instead for a specific dollar amount would require much more time from respondents and would likely lower the rate of response to the survey.

Overall, from 2007 to 2010, the proportion of families that reported that they had saved in the preceding year fell substantially, from 56.4 percent to 52.0 percent. That decrease pushed the fraction of families reporting saving to the lowest level since the SCF began collecting such information in 1992. The general pattern of changes across demographic groups in the recent three-year period is also one of decline, as retirees were the only group reporting an increase in the fraction that saved.

Estimates of the personal saving rate from the national income and product accounts (NIPA) show an annual saving rate of 5.3 percent between 2008 and 2010, up substantially from the 2.2 percent rate over the 2005-07 period. This divergence in trend arose in part because the SCF and NIPA concepts of saving differ in some important ways. First, the underlying SCF question asks only whether the family's spending has been less than, more than, or about the same as its income over the past year. Thus, while the fraction of families saving may be smaller, those who are doing so may be saving a relatively large amount; those who are spending more than their incomes may be spending a relatively small amount. Second, the NIPA measure of saving relies on definitions of income and consumption that may not be the same as those that respondents had in mind when answering the survey questions. For example, the NIPA measure of personal income includes payments employers make to their employees' defined-benefit pension plans but not the payments made from such plans to families, whereas the SCF measure includes only the latter. The SCF measure also includes realized capital gains, whereas the NIPA measure excludes such gains.

A separate question in the survey asks about families' more typical saving habits. In 2010, 6.0 percent of families reported that their spending usually exceeds their income; 19.6 percent reported that the two are usually about the same; 34.8 percent reported that they typically save income "left over" at the end of the year, income of one family member, or "unusual" additional income; and 39.6 percent reported that they save regularly (data not shown in the tables). These estimates show a small decrease between 2007 and 2010 in the share of families who reported regular saving, but in general, the fact that these figures are not much changed over the past several surveys suggests that economic conditions over this period had only modest effects on the longer-run saving plans of families.

The SCF also collects information on families' most important motivations for saving (table 3).15 In 2010, the most frequently reported motive was liquidity related (35.2 percent of families), a response that is generally taken to be indicative of saving for precautionary reasons, and the next most frequently reported response was retirement related (30.1 percent of families).16 At least since 1998, these two responses have been most frequently reported, but saving for retirement was marginally more likely to be reported than saving for liquidity, until the 2010 survey. Education-related motives also appear to be important, but less so than in 2007; in 2010, 8.2 percent of families reported it as their primary motive, down only slightly from 2007 but down 3.4 percentage points since 2004. The frequency of reporting saving for purchases rose 1.5 percentage points from 2007 to 2010 to a level 3.8 percentage points above that in 2004.


Table 3. Reasons respondents gave as most important for their families' saving, distributed by type of reason, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Type of reason 2001 2004 2007 2010
Education 10.9 11.6 8.4 8.2
For the family 5.1 4.7 5.5 5.7
Buying own home 4.2 5.0 4.2 3.2
Purchases 9.5 7.7 10.0 11.5
Retirement 32.1 34.7 34.0 30.1
Liquidity 31.2 30.0 32.0 35.2
Investments 1.0 1.5 1.6 1.2
No particular reason 1.1 .7 1.1 1.4
When asked for a reason, reported do not save 4.9 4.0 3.3 3.5
Total 100 100 100 100

Note: See note to table 1 and text note 15.

The survey asks families to estimate the amount of savings they need for emergencies and other unexpected contingencies, a measure of desired savings for precautionary purposes.17 The desired amount increases with income, but as shown by the following table, the amount is a similar percentage of usual income across levels of such income:


Table 3.1
Family characteristic Median of desired precautionary saving (2010 dollars) Median of ratio of desired amount to usual income (percent)
All families 5,000 10.8
Percentile of usual income
Less than 20 2,000 14.1
20-39.9 4,000 12.3
40-59.9 5,000 9.8
60-79.9 10,000 10.2
80-89.9 10,000 8.9
90-100 30,000 12.1

Overall, the amount of such desired savings was little changed from 2007, but it rose overall and for most income groups as a percentage of usual income, largely because usual income fell over the recent three-year period (data not shown in the tables).

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Net Worth

From 2007 to 2010, inflation-adjusted net worth (wealth)--the difference between families' gross assets and their liabilities--fell dramatically in terms of both the median and the mean (table 4). The median fell 38.8 percent, and the mean fell 14.7 percent. The two preceding surveys showed substantial increases in both median and mean net worth. The corresponding values for the period from 2004 to 2007 were increases of 17.9 percent and 13.1 percent. And, for the period 2001 to 2004, there were smaller increases (1.0 percent and 6.2 percent). Mean net worth fell to about the level in the 2001 survey, and median net worth was close to levels not seen since the 1992 survey (data not shown in the tables). Although the overall measures of change in wealth from the 2007 and 2010 cross-sectional surveys are negative, evidence from the 2007-09 SCF panel survey suggests that there was substantial heterogeneity in wealth changes across families; in that panel, families variously showed large gains in wealth as well as losses, though there was a preponderance of losses.18


Table 4. Family net worth, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys
Thousands of 2010 dollars
Family characteristic 2001 2004 2007 2010
Median Mean Median Mean Median Mean Median Mean
All families 106.1 487.0 107.2 517.1 126.4 584.6 77.3 498.8
(3.7) (8.2) (4.9) (11.2) (5.7) (9.7) (2.8) (12.7)
Percentile of income
Less than 20 9.6 64.7 8.6 83.6 8.5 110.3 6.2 116.8
20-39.9 45.9 141.2 38.8 139.8 39.6 141.3 25.6 127.9
40-59.9 78.0 199.4 82.8 224.0 92.3 220.6 65.9 199.0
60-79.9 176.8 360.7 184.0 392.9 215.7 393.9 128.6 293.9
80-89.9 322.4 560.3 360.9 563.7 373.2 638.1 286.6 567.2
90-100 1,021.5 2,777.1 1,069.7 2,925.2 1,172.3 3,474.7 1,194.3 2,944.1
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 14.3 111.2 16.3 84.6 12.4 111.1 9.3 65.3
35-44 95.1 318.6 79.9 345.2 92.4 341.9 42.1 217.4
45-54 164.9 595.9 167.1 625.8 193.7 694.6 117.9 573.1
55-64 227.2 898.6 290.0 976.4 266.2 986.7 179.4 880.5
65-74 217.8 831.4 218.8 795.1 250.8 1,064.1 206.7 848.3
75 or more 190.3 574.8 187.7 607.7 223.7 668.8 216.8 677.8
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 16.2 117.4 24.0 149.9 24.4 187.4 15.5 143.7
Single, no child, age less than 55 24.0 185.5 24.2 179.8 26.3 217.2 14.6 117.5
Single, no child, age 55 or more 111.9 355.8 134.0 405.8 150.7 408.9 102.0 391.6
Couple with child(ren) 139.3 540.1 140.6 580.5 147.5 629.1 86.7 555.7
Couple, no child 217.1 790.1 240.2 868.2 236.2 998.6 205.7 864.8
Education of head
No high school diploma 31.3 127.5 23.7 157.1 34.8 149.7 16.1 110.7
High school diploma 71.1 222.0 79.1 227.2 84.3 263.8 56.7 218.1
Some college 89.8 352.1 79.8 355.7 88.8 384.5 50.9 272.2
College degree 262.2 976.6 260.2 982.3 298.6 1,154.5 195.2 977.7
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 150.4 599.0 162.2 648.3 179.4 727.4 130.6 654.5
Nonwhite or Hispanic 22.0 144.1 28.5 176.2 29.7 240.3 20.4 175.9

Note: See note to table 1.

Movements in the dollar value of families' net worth are, by definition, a result of changes in investment, valuation, and patterns of ownership of financial assets (tables 5, 6, and 7) and nonfinancial assets (tables 8, 9, and 10), as well as decisions about acquiring or paying down debt (tables 11 through 17). A variety of financial decisions underlie these changes. Box 3, "Shopping for Financial Services," provides a discussion of the intensity of families' decisionmaking efforts and their sources of financial information.


Table 4. Family net worth, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys-- continued
Thousands of 2010 dollars
Family characteristic 2001 2004 2007 2010
Median Mean Median Mean Median Mean Median Mean
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 79.7 276.9 77.4 310.7 98.5 369.1 55.2 298.8
Self-employed 431.7 1,546.5 402.2 1,639.9 407.3 2,057.4 285.6 1,743.6
Retired 141.0 556.4 160.9 539.8 169.9 569.1 151.1 485.3
Other not working 9.4 218.4 13.6 186.7 6.0 130.1 11.9 137.5
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 242.1 942.4 227.3 995.6 258.8 1,174.8 167.3 1,047.0
Technical, sales, or services 57.3 244.7 51.7 284.8 77.0 325.8 32.6 219.1
Other occupation 58.9 167.1 65.0 169.8 68.4 201.3 46.6 162.8
Retired or other not working 118.2 501.4 127.9 485.0 135.6 500.6 93.5 410.4
Region
Northeast 114.3 556.3 186.1 655.0 167.1 684.6 119.9 615.2
Midwest 130.3 418.3 132.4 503.8 112.7 491.2 68.4 399.8
South 90.4 461.4 73.4 401.0 102.0 525.9 68.3 440.8
West 109.0 541.8 109.3 605.3 164.1 695.4 73.4 599.9
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 108.0 525.0 120.1 582.0 138.8 652.6 78.4 553.6
Non-MSA 98.0 250.1 68.2 203.5 82.0 253.9 74.5 236.1
Housing status
Owner 211.5 687.2 212.6 720.9 246.0 817.6 174.5 713.4
Renter or other 5.9 67.7 4.6 62.3 5.4 74.7 5.1 57.2
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 1.4 .1 2.0 -1.6 1.3 -2.3 -12.8
25-49.9 50.1 54.4 50.2 54.2 56.8 60.9 32.2 35.6
50-74.9 193.6 204.9 196.7 213.7 230.8 238.6 157.2 168.9
75-89.9 528.0 553.5 586.7 608.4 601.2 616.7 482.7 527.9
90-100 1,602.6 3,390.0 1,645.5 3,591.1 1,991.9 4,176.9 1,864.1 3,716.5

† Less than 0.05 ($50).

By age group, median and mean values of family net worth generally increase with age, though there are some signs of decrease among older age groups. This pattern reflects both life-cycle saving behavior and a historical pattern of long-run growth in inflation-adjusted wages. The median and mean values of wealth rise in tandem with income, a relationship reflecting both income earned from assets and a higher likelihood of substantial saving among higher-income families. Wealth shows strong differentials across groups defined in terms of family structure, education, racial or ethnic background, work status, occupation, housing status, and the urbanicity and Region of residence; these differentials generally mirror those for income, but the wealth differences tend to be larger.

Net Worth by Demographic Category

Analysis by demographic group for the 2007-10 period shows a pattern of substantial losses in median and mean net worth for most groups, but a small number of groups experienced gains. Most groups saw declines in the median that far exceeded declines in the mean.

Box 3. Shopping for Financial Services

As a normal part of their financial lives, families must make a variety of decisions to select particular investments for any savings they may have, as well as to select the forms and terms of credit they may use. To the extent that families devote more or less attention to such activities or that they are better or worse informed, the wealth of otherwise comparable families may differ substantially over time.

The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) contains a self-assessment of families' intensity of shopping for borrowing or investing services. In 2010, 53.0 percent of families reported that they undertake a moderate amount of shopping for borrowing, and 54.7 percent reported that they undertake a moderate amount of shopping for investing (table A). 1Only 26.2 percent of families reported shopping a great deal for loan terms, and only 23.3 percent reported shopping a great deal for the best terms on investments. These figures are little changed from 2007 (data not shown in the tables). Even though the survey questions are intended to elicit a description of behavior in general, the behavior reported could still be more reflective of the short-term needs for such services and consequently the immediate need for shopping. When broken out by categories of net worth, the patterns in 2010 are similar for all groups for loan shopping (data not shown in the tables). For investment shopping, the data show a more pronounced gradient toward more-intensive shopping by families with higher levels of wealth.


Table A. Intensity of shopping for borrowing or investing, 2010
Percent
Intensity of shopping Type of service
Borrowing Investing
Almost none 20.8 21.9
Moderate amount 53.0 54.7
A great deal 26.2 23.3

More families turn to friends, family members, or associates for financial information than to any other source of information on borrowing or investing (table B). This result suggests that there may be important feedback effects in financial outcomes; that is, families who know relatively well-informed people may obtain better services. Sellers of financial services--bankers, brokers, and so on--and the Internet are either the second or third most frequently cited sources of information for borrowing or investing. The Internet was reported by 41.7 percent of families as a source of information on borrowing and by 33.0 percent as a source of information on investing. When viewed across categories of net worth, the data show similar patterns of use of sources of information by all groups (data not shown in the tables).


Table B. Information used for decisions about borrowing or investing, 2010
Percent
Source Type of service
Borrowing Investing
Calling around 27.0 15.7
Magazines, newspapers, and other media 14.5 14.4
Material in the mail 28.3 19.0
Internet 41.7 33.0
Friends, relatives, associates 43.9 40.8
Bankers, brokers, and other sellers of financial services 39.5 39.1
Lawyers, accountants, and other financial advisors 19.5 31.1
Does not borrow or invest 14.6 11.7

Note: Figures sum to more than 100 because of reporting of multiple sources.

In addition to serving as a source of information, the Internet can also be a medium for obtaining financial services. In 2010, 58.5 percent of families reported using the Internet to access at least some type of service at one of the financial institutions they used (data not shown in the tables). If accessing information and using services are combined, the Internet played a part in the financial life of 67.4 percent of all families (table C). This figure is up sharply from 59.7 percent in 2007 and 46.5 percent in 2004 (data not shown in the tables). The proportion of such users rises strongly over net worth groups: Among the least wealthy 25 percent of families, 60.3 percent made such use of the Internet, whereas the figure was 84.4 percent for the wealthiest 10 percent (data not shown in the tables). More striking is the variation over age groups. Among families headed by a person younger than age 35, 80.0 percent reported using the Internet for financial information or services, whereas the figure for families with a head aged 75 or older was only 25.8 percent. These figures are both up substantially from their respective values in 2007--71.9 percent and 16.4 percent (data not shown in tables). If the relatively greater expression of such behavior by younger families persists as they age, and if succeeding cohorts follow their example, Internet-based financial services may become even more important in the future. 2

Table C. Use of the Internet for financial information or financial services, by age of head, 2010
Percent
Family characteristic Percentage of families
All families 67.4
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 80.0
35-44 77.2
45-54 74.6
55-64 69.0
65-74 51.7
75 or more 25.8

1. The underlying question allows the survey respondent to shade the intermediate response toward a greater or lesser amount of shopping. About one-third of the respondents choose to do so, and of those, somewhat more than one-half shaded their response toward a greater degree of shopping. Return to text

2. For a discussion of the definition of local banking markets, see Dean F. Amel, Arthur B. Kennickell, and Kevin B. Moore (2008), "Banking Market Definition: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-35 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, August; paper dated July 7). Return to text

 

Return to text

Median net worth fell for all percentile groups of the distribution of net worth, with the largest decreases in proportional terms being for the groups below the 75th percentile of the net worth distribution. From 2007 to 2010, the median for the lowest quartile of net worth fell from $1,300 to zero--a 100 percent decline; at the same time, the mean for the group fell from negative $2,300 to negative $12,800. For the second and third quartiles, the median and mean declines in net worth were smaller but still sizable; for example, median net worth for the second quartile fell 43.3 percent. Median and mean net worth did not fall quite as much for the higher net worth groups. For the 75th-to-90th percentile group, the median fell 19.7 percent while the mean fell 14.4 percent. For the wealthiest decile, the 11.0 percent decline in the mean exceeded the 6.4 percent decline in the median for that group; as was discussed earlier in the case of family income, this pattern of the changes in the median and mean suggests that there was some compression of higher values in the wealth distribution.

Over the recent three-year period, median net worth decreased for all income groups except the top decile, for which it was basically unchanged; mean net worth fell substantially for all of the groups except the lowest quintile, for which mean wealth rose 5.9 percent. The broad middle of the income distribution (the groups between the 20th and 90th percentiles) saw consistently large drops in median net worth between 2007 and 2010, with much smaller drops in mean net worth within those income groups. In contrast to the stability of the median for the top decile, the mean for that group was down 15.3 percent over the recent three-year period.

The opposing pattern of a 27.1 percent decline in median net worth for the lowest income quintile and a 5.9 percent increase in the mean for the group differs from the patterns seen for the other groups. To some extent, this finding reflects composition effects. Box 2, "Cross-Sectional Data and Changes in Group Composition over Time" provides an example of how income-related composition affects median net worth across income groups.

The survey shows substantial declines in median and mean net worth by age group between 2007 and 2010, with the exception that mean net worth rose modestly (1.3 percent) for the 75-or-more age group. The 35-to-44 age group saw a 54.4 percent decline in median net worth during the most recent three-year period, and the mean for that age group fell 36.4 percent. The wealth decreases for the less-than-35 age group were also large; the median fell 25.0 percent while the mean fell 41.2 percent. The declines in median and mean net worth for middle-aged families (the 45-to-54 and 55-to-64 age groups) were also large.

By family structure, single families headed by a person younger than 55 with no children and couples with children (who also tend to be relatively young) had the largest drops in wealth from 2007 to 2010 in median net worth--declines of 44.5 percent and 41.2 percent, respectively. Single families with children and families headed by a single person who was aged 55 or older and without children also experienced large decreases in median net worth--36.5 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively. Mean net worth fell for all family structure groups as well, though the extent of the decreases ranged from 4.2 percent (childless families headed by a single person aged 55 or older) to 45.9 percent (other childless families headed by a single person).

From 2007 to 2010, median and mean net worth decreased for all education groups. Mirroring the pattern for all families, each of the four education groups experienced a very large decline in the median (ranging from a drop of 53.7 percent for the no-high-school-diploma group to a drop of 32.7 percent for the high-school-educated group) and smaller declines in the mean (ranging from 29.2 percent for the some-college group to a drop of 15.3 percent for the college-educated group). The patterns of changes in medians and means across education groups are similar to those for the income groups, largely because income and education are strongly correlated.

The data show losses from 2007 to 2010 in median and mean wealth for both categories of race or ethnicity. Declines in the median were roughly the same for white non-Hispanic families (27.2 percent) and for nonwhite or Hispanic families (31.3 percent).19

However, the decline in the mean was much smaller for white non-Hispanic families--10.0 percent--than the decline for nonwhite or Hispanic families--26.8 percent. Among nonwhite or Hispanic families, the subgroup of African American families saw a decline of 13.3 percent in their median net worth from 2007 ($17,900) to 2010 ($15,500), and their mean net worth fell 30.4 percent, from $140,800 to $98,000; over the 2004-07 period, the median for the group had fallen 23.9 percent, while the mean had risen 10.6 percent (data not shown in the tables).

From 2007 to 2010, median and mean net worth fell among all work-status groups except one. The exception was families headed by persons who were not working, for reasons other than retirement (the other-not-working group), which showed increases in both measures (albeit from relatively low starting points); in both years, the group had the lowest levels of both median and mean net worth of all work-status groups. The dollar amounts of decreases in median and mean net worth for the self-employed group were far larger than those for the other groups that experienced losses over the period; in percentage terms, however, the decreases for this group in both median and mean wealth were well below the rates of decline for families headed by a person working for someone else.

Median and mean net worth decreased for all occupation groups in the recent three-year period, but they did so most markedly for families headed by a worker in a technical, sales, or service occupation, for whom median net worth fell 57.7 percent and mean net worth fell 32.8 percent. Wealth losses were substantial for every other occupation group as well, however, with median declines ranging from 35.4 percent (managerial and professional group) to 31.0 percent (retired group), and mean declines ranging from 19.1 (other-occupation group) to 10.9 percent (managerial and professional group).

Between 2007 and 2010, median net worth fell dramatically for families living in all Regions of the country, but especially for those living in the West--a 55.3 percent decline. This pattern reflects the effect of the collapse of housing values in several parts of the West Region. Median wealth in every other Region fell 28.2 percent or more. As with the overall population and most other demographic groups discussed earlier, the decline in mean net worth within every Region was smaller than the drop in the median. In the South and Midwest Regions, the percentage decline in the median was about twice as large as the percentage decline in the mean, but in percentage terms, the median for the West fell four times as much as the mean.

By urbanicity of the place of residence, in the recent three-year period, median net worth fell much more dramatically in MSA areas than in non-MSA areas, but the declines in the means were more similar. The decline in median net worth in MSA areas was large enough to erase most of the widening gap that had developed since 1998, in large part due to a run-up in house values. Mean net worth remained much higher in MSA areas than in non-MSA areas in 2010.

As might be expected from the previous discussion on the role of the decline in housing values in explaining median and mean wealth losses across various demographic groups, there are large differences in net worth changes by housing status. Median net worth for homeowners fell 29.1 percent between 2007 and 2010, while the mean fell 12.7 percent. The decline in median net worth for non-homeowners (hereafter, renters) was only 5.6 percent, though the decline in the mean was much larger at 23.4 percent. Renters have much lower median and mean net worth than homeowners in any survey year, so the dollar value of wealth losses for the renter group tended to be much smaller; for example, the median net worth of renters fell $300 over the three-year period, in contrast with $71,500 for homeowners.

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Assets

At 97.4 percent in 2010, the overall proportion of families with any asset was barely changed from 2007 (first half of tables 9.A and 9.B, last column). Overall, this figure has declined 0.3 percentage point since 2007 (data not shown in the tables). Across demographic groups, the pattern of changes in the recent three-year period is mostly one of small increases or decreases. Noticeable exceptions are declines for the following groups: the second quintile of the income distribution (0.9 percentage point), families headed by a person aged less than 35 (1.6 percentage points) or between 65 and 74 (1.3 percentage points), families headed by a person with a high school diploma (1.2 percentage points), and families in the bottom quartile of the net worth distribution (1.2 percentage points). For many groups, the figure remained at or near 100 percent.

From 2007 to 2010, median assets for families having any assets fell 19.3 percent, from $232,100 to $187,200 (second half of tables 9.A and 9.B, last column), and the mean fell 12.8 percent, from $702,100 to $612,300 (memo line). The percentage change in median assets between 2007 and 2010 is only about half the percentage change in median net worth reported in table 4, in part for reasons related to housing. Because houses are frequently mortgaged, net equity in homes tends to be smaller than the asset value of the home itself; consequently, a given change in housing values will tend to have an amplified proportional effect on net worth changes relative to the change in value as a proportion of gross assets.

Across net worth groups, the percentage changes in median assets and net worth were most similar for families in the highest or lowest quartiles of the distribution of net worth. For the wealthier groups, housing tends to be a smaller share of net worth, and it is less likely to be mortgages than is the case for the middle wealth groups. For the least wealthy group, homeownership is much less common than for other groups. The divergence between fluctuations in median asset change and median net worth change is largest for the middle two quartiles, whose net worth tends to be dominated by housing. A similar effect shows up across income groups, as middle-income families experienced smaller declines in median assets than in median net worth, in part because they are more likely to be leveraged homeowners whose assets are dominated by housing. Across other demographic groups such as age, race or ethnicity, and education, the percentage declines in median assets are generally about half the percentage decline in median net worth. Not unexpectedly, such divergence of changes in wealth and assets was largest for homeowners, whose median assets fell 18.0 percent, well below their decline in median net worth of 29.1 percent; for renters, in contrast, median assets fell 11.3 percent, which is greater than their 5.6 percent decline in median net worth.

Financial Assets

Although median and mean financial assets declined from 2007 to 2010, financial assets as a share of total assets rose 3.9 percentage points to 37.9 percent (table 5, memo line); this movement reverses a decline in this share from a level in 2001 that marked the high point observed in the survey since at least 1989. The share of financial assets in total assets had fallen 8.2 percentage points between 2001 and 2007. The relative shares of various financial assets also shifted. The decline in the percentage share of directly held stock was mostly offset by increases in the shares of transaction and retirement accounts.20 The share of financial assets held in retirement accounts has nearly doubled since 1989, and as of 2010, it stood at 38.1 percent of families' financial assets (data not shown in the tables).

Across the groups considered, the 94.0 percent rate of ownership of any financial asset in 2010 was almost unchanged over the recent three-year period (first half of tables 6.A and 6.B, last column).

Changes in ownership rates were also generally small across demographic groups, though there are a few exceptions. By age, families in the less-than-35 group saw a 2.1 percentage point increase in their financial asset ownership rate, while those in the 55-to-64 group saw a 2.0 percentage point decline; by family structure, ownership increased 4.3 percentage points for single families with children but declined 2.7 percentage points for childless single families headed by someone 55 or older; and by work status, ownership fell 1.6 percentage points for families headed by a person who was self-employed. Ownership increased for nonwhite or Hispanic families and for white non-Hispanic families. The share of homeowners with financial assets fell 0.4 percentage points, but the ownership rate for renters rose 1.8 percentage points.


Table 5. Value of financial assets of all families, distributed by type of asset, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Type of financial asset 2001 2004 2007 2010
Transaction accounts 11.4 13.1 10.9 13.3
Certificates of deposit 3.1 3.7 4.0 3.9
Savings bonds .7 .5 .4 .3
Bonds 4.5 5.3 4.1 4.4
Stocks 21.5 17.5 17.8 14.0
Pooled investment funds (excluding money market funds) 12.1 14.6 15.8 15.0
Retirement accounts 29.0 32.4 35.1 38.1
Cash value life insurance 5.3 2.9 3.2 2.5
Other managed assets 10.5 7.9 6.5 6.2
Other 1.9 2.1 2.1 2.3
Total 100 100 100 100
MEMO
Financial assets as a share of total assets 42.2 35.8 34.0 37.9

Note: For this and following tables, see text for definition of asset categories. Also see note to table 1.



Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Percentage of families holding asset
All families 92.1 16.1 14.9 1.6 17.9 11.4 53.0 23.0 5.8 9.3 93.9
Percentile of income
Less than 20 74.9 9.4 3.6 * 5.5 3.4 10.8 12.8 2.7 6.6 79.1
20-39.9 90.1 12.7 8.4 * 7.8 4.6 35.8 16.4 4.7 8.7 93.2
40-59.9 96.3 15.5 15.2 * 14.0 7.1 55.6 21.6 5.4 10.2 97.2
60-79.9 99.3 19.3 20.9 1.4 23.2 14.6 74.3 29.4 5.7 8.4 99.7
80-89.9 100.0 19.9 26.2 1.8 30.5 18.9 86.9 30.6 7.6 9.7 100.0
90-100 100.0 27.7 26.1 8.9 47.5 35.5 89.6 38.9 13.6 15.3 100.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 87.3 6.7 13.7 * 13.7 5.3 42.1 11.4 * 10.0 89.2
35-44 91.2 9.0 16.8 .7 17.0 11.6 57.8 17.5 2.2 9.4 93.1
45-54 91.7 14.3 19.0 1.1 18.6 12.6 65.4 22.3 5.1 10.5 93.3
55-64 96.4 20.5 16.2 2.1 21.3 14.3 61.2 35.2 7.7 9.2 97.8
65-74 94.6 24.2 10.3 4.2 19.1 14.6 51.7 34.4 13.2 9.4 96.1
75 or more 95.3 37.0 7.9 3.5 20.2 13.2 30.0 27.6 14.0 5.3 97.4
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 81.1 9.0 10.9 * 7.1 6.8 35.0 21.4 2.4 11.5 84.6
Single, no child, age less than 55 87.4 9.9 9.4 * 18.0 8.9 46.7 10.2 2.0 11.6 90.0
Single, no child, age 55 or more 94.6 24.0 9.6 2.1 13.5 10.8 36.7 22.0 11.2 7.9 96.2
Couple with child(ren) 94.3 12.5 24.0 1.2 18.9 12.0 62.1 23.6 4.4 8.6 95.1
Couple, no child 95.7 22.5 11.6 2.9 24.1 14.4 62.6 30.2 8.1 8.7 97.3
Education of head
No high school diploma 75.7 9.5 3.4 * 3.9 2.2 21.6 12.6 1.7 7.1 79.7
High school diploma 90.9 14.1 11.5 .6 9.3 5.8 43.3 22.6 4.2 8.2 93.3
Some college 93.9 14.1 16.4 1.2 17.4 8.9 53.0 23.4 6.6 10.0 95.6
College degree 98.7 21.6 21.6 3.3 31.5 21.4 73.9 27.2 8.5 10.8 98.9


Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 95.5 19.4 17.8 2.1 21.4 13.7 58.5 25.3 7.3 9.7 96.8
Nonwhite or Hispanic 83.9 8.2 7.8 .4 9.4 5.8 39.5 17.6 2.3 8.3 86.7
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 92.6 13.2 17.0 .9 17.8 10.4 62.7 20.3 3.7 9.2 94.2
Self-employed 96.9 15.0 15.9 4.2 24.3 21.4 55.4 32.1 6.9 14.8 98.0
Retired 91.6 25.7 10.2 2.3 16.4 11.3 34.2 27.3 11.2 7.0 93.7
Other not working 78.6 5.6 10.7 * 12.8 * 22.4 14.6 * 10.4 81.3
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 98.3 18.2 21.1 3.1 28.7 19.7 74.9 24.9 6.7 11.0 98.7
Technical, sales, or services 91.9 11.5 15.0 .4 14.9 8.8 54.9 21.3 4.0 9.1 94.1
Other occupation 87.9 9.2 13.1 * 9.9 5.4 51.3 19.0 1.1 9.8 90.2
Retired or other not working 89.5 22.5 10.3 2.0 15.8 9.9 32.3 25.3 9.8 7.5 91.8
Region
Northeast 91.3 18.1 18.9 2.0 21.4 15.5 53.7 23.5 6.4 5.4 92.5
Midwest 93.6 16.8 16.0 1.2 17.9 10.6 58.1 26.6 6.7 9.3 95.4
South 91.3 15.1 12.0 1.7 15.4 9.7 49.3 23.4 5.2 8.5 93.5
West 92.7 15.5 15.0 1.6 19.2 11.5 53.1 18.3 5.5 13.9 93.9
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 92.8 16.2 15.1 1.8 19.4 12.1 55.1 22.2 5.9 9.5 94.3
Non-MSA 88.7 15.9 13.8 .8 10.9 7.7 42.5 26.8 5.5 8.5 91.8
Housing status
Owner 97.3 20.0 18.2 2.2 22.4 15.0 63.7 28.9 7.5 9.4 98.4
Renter or other 80.8 7.7 7.5 .4 8.1 3.5 29.6 10.1 2.1 9.1 84.0
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 76.3 2.5 4.8 * 4.3 * 19.7 7.8 * 7.4 79.6
25-49.9 93.6 9.9 12.3 * 10.2 3.6 48.6 19.7 1.9 8.9 96.4
50-74.9 98.6 19.4 17.6 * 17.2 10.4 63.1 28.5 6.2 8.6 99.5
75-89.9 100.0 32.5 25.9 * 31.7 22.8 77.5 32.3 11.1 9.4 100.0
90-100 100.0 32.9 23.2 11.7 52.4 42.2 84.8 41.7 20.6 16.6 100.0

Although the overall ratio of financial assets to total assets rose over the recent period, that increase is attributable to the relatively larger declines in the value of nonfinancial assets; the median holding of financial assets for families having such assets fell 28.8 percent, while the mean fell 3.3 percent. The recent change in the median erased the gains experienced in the previous three-year period (2004 to 2007) and left median financial assets at their lowest level since the 1995 survey (data not shown in the tables). The decline in median financial asset holdings was widespread across demographic groups, with gains observed for families headed by someone 75 or older, the top 10 percent of families ranked by income, and the top 10 percent of families ranked by net worth.

Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Median value of holdings for families holding asset (thousands of 2010 dollars)
All families 4.2 21.0 1.0 83.8 17.8 58.7 47.1 8.4 73.3 6.3 30.2
Percentile of income
Less than 20 .8 18.9 .5 * 4.0 31.4 6.3 2.6 104.8 1.6 1.8
20-39.9 1.7 18.9 1.0 * 10.5 31.4 12.6 5.2 90.1 3.1 7.3
40-59.9 2.9 17.8 .7 * 5.8 39.3 25.1 5.4 61.8 4.2 19.9
60-79.9 6.3 11.5 1.0 19.9 14.7 36.7 50.3 10.4 54.5 10.5 62.9
80-89.9 13.5 21.0 2.1 84.9 15.7 48.2 94.7 9.4 31.4 10.5 138.0
90-100 38.4 44.0 2.6 261.9 78.6 188.6 214.8 29.4 94.3 47.1 423.8
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 2.5 5.2 .7 * 3.1 18.9 10.0 2.9 * 1.6 7.1
35-44 3.6 5.2 1.0 10.2 15.7 23.6 38.8 8.7 25.1 8.4 27.2
45-54 5.2 15.7 1.0 209.5 19.4 52.4 66.0 10.5 47.1 6.3 56.9
55-64 5.4 24.1 2.0 95.1 25.1 117.3 104.8 10.5 61.8 21.0 77.2
65-74 8.1 24.4 1.0 52.4 39.8 90.1 80.7 10.5 73.3 10.5 71.3
75 or more 6.4 31.4 21.0 104.8 41.9 78.6 36.7 5.2 104.8 15.7 43.5
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 1.7 7.9 1.0 * 10.5 48.2 17.8 4.0 21.0 4.2 6.3
Single, no child, age less than 55 2.6 6.3 1.6 * 4.0 16.8 25.4 5.8 62.9 3.1 13.3
Single, no child, age 55 or more 2.9 29.3 4.2 52.4 26.2 80.7 48.8 5.2 104.8 3.8 28.3
Couple with child(ren) 4.8 10.5 1.0 84.9 15.7 52.4 49.5 9.9 36.7 5.2 31.3
Couple, no child 7.9 27.2 1.6 83.8 26.2 65.5 69.1 10.5 54.5 15.7 73.8
Education of head
No high school diploma 1.3 14.7 1.0 * 2.8 67.1 15.7 2.6 31.4 1.6 3.1
High school diploma 2.6 16.8 1.0 48.7 10.5 31.4 29.9 5.4 83.8 5.2 14.9
Some college 2.9 18.9 1.0 52.4 6.3 26.2 33.5 8.4 54.5 4.2 21.0
College degree 10.5 26.2 1.2 104.8 26.2 78.6 78.6 13.6 78.6 10.5 101.0

Note: See note to table 1.

* Ten or fewer observations.

Transaction Accounts and Certificates of Deposit

In 2010, 92.5 percent of families had some type of transaction account--a category comprising checking, savings, and money market deposit accounts; money market mutual funds; and call or cash accounts at brokerages. The increase of 0.4 percentage point in ownership since 2007 continued the general upward trend seen in recent surveys; the ownership rate is now 1.9 percentage points higher than in 1998 (data not shown in the tables). Families that did not have any type of transaction account in 2010 were disproportionately likely to have incomes in the lowest income quintile, to be headed by a person younger than age 35, to be nonwhite or Hispanic, to be headed by a person who was neither working nor retired, to be renters, or to have net worth in the lowest quartile. See box 4 "Decisions about Checking Accounts" for a discussion of the reasons families do or do not have a checking account. Over the 2007-10 period, transaction account ownership rose noticeably--between 2.2 and 4.1 percentage points--for single families with children, families headed by a person in the other-not-working work-status group, and families in the bottom quartile of the net worth distribution.

Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 5.3 21.0 1.0 100.4 19.9 67.1 55.5 9.4 73.3 10.1 47.2
Nonwhite or Hispanic 2.1 10.5 1.0 24.2 8.4 31.4 26.2 5.2 31.4 3.1 9.4
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 4.0 10.5 1.0 49.1 11.0 44.0 42.1 7.9 28.5 5.2 30.2
Self-employed 10.4 26.2 1.0 157.2 62.9 83.8 95.3 25.1 83.8 16.8 56.7
Retired 4.2 31.4 2.6 83.3 30.1 81.9 52.4 5.8 104.8 10.5 31.3
Other not working 1.0 15.7 2.1 * 6.5 * 21.8 2.3 * 3.1 3.9
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 9.2 15.7 1.0 83.8 21.0 78.6 75.4 13.6 61.8 10.5 82.1
Technical, sales, or services 3.1 15.7 1.0 129.1 12.6 41.9 31.4 9.4 10.5 5.2 18.4
Other occupation 2.6 10.5 .7 * 4.2 18.9 25.3 5.2 21.0 5.2 14.6
Retired or other not working 3.5 31.4 2.1 100.4 26.2 81.9 47.1 5.2 104.8 5.8 24.8
Region
Northeast 5.3 21.0 1.0 120.1 18.7 52.4 60.1 9.4 76.5 10.5 46.4
Midwest 3.9 12.6 1.0 51.6 14.7 39.3 38.3 7.3 70.2 6.3 32.7
South 3.7 21.0 1.3 104.8 18.7 73.3 41.9 8.4 83.8 4.2 22.0
West 4.5 24.1 1.0 62.9 18.9 61.6 47.7 10.4 62.9 6.3 30.5
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 4.7 21.0 1.0 104.8 19.9 62.9 50.0 9.4 73.3 8.4 34.2
Non-MSA 2.6 10.5 1.3 52.4 11.5 35.6 35.3 5.2 47.1 2.5 16.8
Housing status
Owner 6.5 21.0 1.0 104.8 21.0 62.9 59.7 10.4 73.3 10.5 57.7
Renter or other 1.3 10.5 .7 15.7 5.8 41.9 10.5 2.1 56.6 2.1 4.0
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 .7 2.1 .5 * 1.1 * 3.1 1.3 * 1.3 1.5
25-49.9 2.1 7.3 .7 * 3.1 9.4 15.7 3.1 14.5 3.1 14.0
50-74.9 6.3 15.7 1.3 * 6.3 26.2 52.4 6.8 52.4 10.5 63.6
75-89.9 16.2 26.2 2.1 * 21.0 52.4 125.7 15.7 83.8 21.0 226.6
90-100 48.7 52.4 3.7 173.8 131.0 276.6 333.2 31.4 165.5 52.4 809.9
MEMO
Mean value of holdings for families holding asset 27.7 58.3 6.9 601.7 231.7 324.4 154.7 32.7 260.7 52.7 248.8

The slight overall expansion in ownership of transaction accounts in the recent three-year period is reflected in the mostly offsetting changes in the types of transaction account held by families. Ownership of checking and savings accounts rose, while ownership of money market accounts declined and that of call accounts was basically unchanged, as shown in table 6.1:

Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Percentage of families holding asset
All families 92.5 12.2 12.0 1.6 15.1 8.7 50.4 19.7 5.7 8.0 94.0
Percentile of income
Less than 20 76.2 5.7 3.6 .1 3.8 2.1 11.2 10.7 1.7 7.0 79.2
20-39.9 91.1 11.1 6.0 * 6.0 3.5 30.5 17.2 4.2 6.7 93.6
40-59.9 96.4 11.7 10.8 * 11.7 5.8 52.8 19.5 5.5 9.6 97.8
60-79.9 98.9 15.8 16.0 1.3 17.3 8.8 69.7 22.8 6.9 7.3 99.6
80-89.9 99.8 12.1 23.0 2.0 25.7 14.6 85.7 25.8 7.8 8.5 100.0
90-100 99.9 21.5 24.4 8.3 47.8 32.1 90.1 30.9 12.3 10.3 100.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 89.0 5.7 10.0 * 10.1 3.6 41.1 9.6 .9 9.0 91.3
35-44 90.6 5.7 11.6 .4 12.1 7.7 52.2 12.3 2.0 8.4 92.7
45-54 92.5 10.0 15.0 1.4 16.0 9.6 60.0 19.8 4.5 7.7 94.2
55-64 94.2 14.6 14.3 2.4 19.5 11.3 59.8 25.7 7.7 8.9 95.8
65-74 95.8 20.6 9.1 3.4 16.1 11.1 49.0 28.4 11.4 7.5 96.2
75 or more 96.4 27.2 10.1 3.6 20.1 11.9 32.8 32.4 14.1 5.0 96.4
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 84.9 6.7 6.3 * 6.9 3.0 34.0 11.1 3.3 8.3 88.9
Single, no child, age less than 55 88.3 6.0 6.3 * 10.7 5.0 40.2 9.8 1.5 11.3 90.6
Single, no child, age 55 or more 92.8 20.1 7.0 2.5 11.9 9.5 33.7 23.5 9.9 7.7 93.5
Couple with child(ren) 94.3 10.4 18.9 1.2 17.0 9.1 60.1 18.9 3.9 7.6 95.7
Couple, no child 95.9 15.8 12.4 2.9 20.9 12.4 61.6 27.9 8.8 6.7 96.6
Education of head
No high school diploma 77.4 6.0 2.7 * 2.2 * 17.1 11.9 3.1 5.3 80.8
High school diploma 90.0 10.8 9.1 .2 8.1 3.2 40.6 19.8 4.2 7.2 92.7
Some college 94.6 11.8 11.7 1.0 11.3 5.4 48.6 17.3 5.5 7.6 95.0
College degree 98.4 15.6 17.7 3.6 27.2 17.6 70.5 23.3 7.9 9.8 98.9

 

Table 6.1
Type of transaction account All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Checking 90.4 .7
Savings 50.5 3.4
Money market 17.2 -3.7
Call 2.0 -.1

The savings account category includes a relatively small number of tax-preferred accounts such as medical or health savings accounts and Coverdell or 529 education accounts.21 Ownership of any of these types of tax-preferred accounts decreased from 3.8 percent in 2007 to 2.9 percent in 2010 (data not shown in the tables). In both of the two years, 529 plans accounted for about 80 percent of the number of these tax-preferred savings accounts, up from 71 percent in 2004.


Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 96.5 15.0 14.8 2.3 18.6 11.6 58.1 22.6 7.3 8.2 97.3
Nonwhite or Hispanic 84.3 6.5 6.3 .2 7.9 2.6 34.4 13.7 2.3 7.6 87.2
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 93.6 9.0 13.7 1.0 13.8 8.1 59.6 17.1 3.6 7.7 95.2
Self-employed 94.8 15.7 12.9 3.5 24.5 14.9 54.7 25.9 8.3 11.1 96.4
Retired 91.7 20.1 9.6 2.6 15.4 8.9 34.4 25.5 10.4 7.3 92.9
Other not working 82.7 3.9 5.8 * 9.5 2.8 24.6 10.2 * 8.3 85.0
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 98.2 14.1 17.3 2.6 24.3 16.0 73.5 21.6 6.8 10.2 99.2
Technical, sales, or services 91.7 7.4 11.0 .8 10.8 5.8 47.7 17.3 2.8 7.5 93.8
Other occupation 89.6 7.5 11.0 * 8.3 3.1 50.0 15.6 2.4 6.2 91.6
Retired or other not working 89.7 16.6 8.8 2.1 14.1 7.6 32.3 22.2 8.5 7.5 91.2
Region
Northeast 91.2 12.4 16.9 2.0 16.5 11.7 54.4 20.6 6.1 7.1 93.0
Midwest 94.2 13.5 13.5 .8 13.8 7.2 54.6 23.3 6.1 7.3 95.5
South 91.1 11.4 9.8 1.5 13.1 7.2 45.9 19.3 5.1 7.2 92.9
West 94.2 12.0 10.1 2.3 18.7 10.4 50.5 16.1 6.0 10.8 95.4
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 92.8 12.1 12.7 1.8 16.6 9.6 52.2 19.3 6.0 8.1 94.2
Non-MSA 91.2 12.6 8.8 .8 7.9 4.5 41.9 21.9 3.9 7.5 93.1
Housing status
Owner 97.4 15.6 15.0 2.3 19.6 11.4 61.7 24.0 7.6 7.6 98.0
Renter or other 82.4 5.2 5.8 .3 6.0 3.1 27.1 10.9 1.8 8.7 85.8
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 78.5 1.4 4.8 * 2.9 * 19.8 7.3 * 5.9 81.7
25-49.9 94.2 5.3 7.0 * 5.6 2.1 42.7 14.2 1.9 8.5 96.1
50-74.9 98.0 14.8 14.2 * 14.0 6.1 58.6 24.1 4.6 7.2 98.7
75-89.9 99.0 27.0 21.6 2.0 26.8 15.5 75.8 30.8 13.1 8.0 99.4
90-100 99.9 27.7 22.8 12.0 54.9 41.8 87.8 36.8 19.3 13.7 100.0

Median holdings in transaction accounts for those who had such accounts fell 16.7 percent from 2007 to 2010, while the mean rose 17.0 percent. The decline in median transaction account balances was widely observed across demographic groups, but there were noticeable exceptions for childless single families headed by someone aged 55 or older, families headed by individuals who reported their current work status as retired, families in the 75-or-older age group, and families in the highest decile of the net worth distribution. Indeed, within the highest decile of net worth, median transaction balances rose from $48,700 to $60,800, an increase of 24.8 percent. The increase in the already substantial holdings of highly liquid and secure transaction account balances among this group of wealthy families is a key to understanding the rise in the overall mean transaction account balances while the overall median fell.

Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Median value of holdings for families holding asset (thousands of 2010 dollars)
All families 3.5 20.0 1.0 137.0 20.0 80.0 44.0 7.3 70.0 5.0 21.5
Percentile of income
Less than 20 .7 15.0 .5 20.0 20.0 38.0 8.0 3.1 38.0 2.3 1.1
20-39.9 1.5 15.0 .5 * 8.0 38.1 11.0 4.2 45.0 2.7 5.2
40-59.9 2.8 18.0 1.0 * 5.6 50.0 22.8 5.0 60.0 5.0 17.1
60-79.9 5.3 16.0 .7 30.0 13.0 50.0 37.0 7.5 33.0 7.0 39.5
80-89.9 11.1 29.0 .8 141.0 14.0 65.5 88.0 10.0 82.0 10.0 120.2
90-100 35.0 34.0 2.0 297.2 60.0 200.0 277.0 30.0 150.0 28.0 550.8
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 2.1 5.2 .5 * 5.4 8.5 10.5 2.1 9.0 2.0 5.5
35-44 2.5 7.0 .9 10.0 10.0 41.0 31.2 5.0 10.0 2.7 14.5
45-54 3.5 16.0 .8 150.0 30.0 110.0 60.0 10.0 50.0 7.0 33.7
55-64 5.0 20.0 1.2 250.0 35.0 110.0 100.0 9.3 65.0 11.0 55.8
65-74 5.7 25.0 4.0 100.0 48.0 115.0 100.0 10.0 95.0 15.0 45.2
75 or more 7.2 32.2 1.0 141.0 45.0 120.0 54.0 7.0 82.0 16.0 43.8
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 1.0 6.0 1.3 * 15.0 28.0 17.8 2.0 30.0 8.0 4.8
Single, no child, age less than 55 2.0 6.7 .5 * 7.9 21.0 20.5 5.0 15.0 2.0 7.9
Single, no child, age 55 or more 3.9 20.0 1.7 120.0 37.5 120.0 46.0 4.0 70.0 10.0 22.1
Couple with child(ren) 3.8 14.0 .8 129.0 15.0 75.0 44.1 8.0 50.0 5.0 25.1
Couple, no child 7.1 30.0 1.2 175.0 33.0 90.0 77.4 11.6 90.0 9.0 57.2
Education of head
No high school diploma .8 40.0 .5 * 2.7 * 16.3 4.5 50.0 1.3 1.6
High school diploma 2.0 20.0 .6 49.8 9.5 62.0 25.0 5.2 35.0 3.6 10.3
Some college 2.5 12.0 .8 40.0 9.9 35.0 27.0 6.0 60.0 5.0 14.1
College degree 9.3 20.0 1.0 150.0 32.0 101.0 76.3 12.0 95.0 10.0 75.7

Note: See note to table 1.

* Ten or fewer observations.



Table 6. Family holdings of financial assets, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Transaction accounts Certificates of deposit Savings bonds Bonds Stocks Pooled investment funds Retirement accounts Cash value life insurance Other managed assets Other Any financial asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 5.0 20.0 1.0 142.0 25.0 91.0 54.0 8.0 73.0 7.5 37.1
Nonwhite or Hispanic 1.6 13.0 1.0 5.0 10.0 50.0 25.0 5.0 25.0 3.0 6.0
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 3.3 10.0 .6 100.0 12.5 50.0 35.6 6.0 31.7 3.0 20.9
Self-employed 7.5 30.0 1.3 257.4 50.0 103.6 85.0 19.0 89.0 10.0 50.5
Retired 4.5 30.0 2.0 140.0 35.0 120.0 66.7 7.3 75.0 10.0 29.1
Other not working 1.0 10.0 1.0 * 11.0 120.0 19.3 5.0 * 3.5 2.8
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 8.5 15.0 1.0 170.0 30.0 100.0 73.1 10.0 84.0 9.0 64.5
Technical, sales, or services 2.1 12.0 1.0 36.4 10.0 54.9 25.0 5.0 25.0 2.5 10.6
Other occupation 2.2 10.0 .5 * 5.6 9.0 25.3 6.0 17.8 2.8 11.7
Retired or other not working 3.0 29.0 1.5 141.0 30.0 120.0 56.5 7.0 73.0 7.0 15.9
Region
Northeast 4.5 15.0 1.0 104.0 25.0 110.0 60.0 10.0 38.0 6.5 33.4
Midwest 3.4 17.0 .5 300.0 11.0 52.0 40.0 5.6 80.0 3.0 23.5
South 3.0 20.0 1.0 200.0 20.0 87.5 37.2 7.0 85.0 5.0 16.6
West 4.0 20.0 1.0 100.0 30.0 75.0 45.0 9.0 40.0 8.0 20.3
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 3.9 19.0 1.0 142.6 23.4 91.0 49.6 8.0 70.0 5.0 23.9
Non-MSA 2.5 20.0 .5 53.1 10.0 40.0 28.8 5.0 70.0 4.0 13.3
Housing status
Owner 5.8 20.0 1.0 129.0 26.5 100.0 59.3 8.5 75.0 8.0 45.8
Renter or other 1.0 10.0 .6 164.0 5.6 20.0 10.0 4.0 16.0 3.0 3.0
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 .6 1.5 .2 * 1.0 * 5.0 1.5 * 1.0 1.1
25-49.9 1.7 5.5 .5 * 2.5 5.0 12.0 3.1 10.0 3.0 7.8
50-74.9 5.2 15.0 .6 * 7.0 20.5 42.0 5.8 30.0 5.0 45.2
75-89.9 14.5 25.0 1.4 50.0 25.0 60.0 133.0 13.7 70.0 10.0 201.0
90-100 60.8 65.0 3.0 220.0 110.0 245.0 413.0 30.0 150.0 70.0 888.0
MEMO
Mean value of holdings for families holding asset 32.4 72.6 6.1 615.0 209.7 388.6 171.2 28.4 247.9 63.9 240.6

Certificates of deposit--interest-bearing deposits with a set term--are traditionally viewed as a low-risk saving vehicle, and they are often used by persons who desire a safe haven from the volatility of financial markets. Over the 2007-10 period, the attractiveness of CDs was subjected to competing forces, two of which seem particularly powerful. Increased volatility in stock and bond markets made CDs more attractive relative to those investments as a haven from risk, but the convergence of yields on all relatively safe assets at a level near zero implied that the advantage CDs typically hold over transaction accounts was greatly reduced. The net result of these and other factors is that CD ownership fell 3.9 percentage points between 2007 and 2010, and the median balance held in CDs among those owning them fell 4.8 percent; at the same time, the mean holdings rose 24.5 percent. The decline in ownership rates was widespread, with the self-employed being the only demographic group to show an increase in the ownership rate. However, the growth in median balances across demographic groups was more diverse; notable increases in median balances were observed for the highest decile of the net worth distribution, families in the Midwest Region, families headed by a person who was self-employed, families with incomes between the 40th and 90th percentiles of the income distribution, and families headed by a person who did not have any college education.

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Savings Bonds and Other Bonds

Savings bonds are owned disproportionately by families in the highest 40 percent of the income distribution and by families in the top half of the distribution of net worth. Over the 2007-10 period, the ownership of savings bonds declined 2.9 percentage points to 12.0 percent overall, and it fell for virtually all demographic groups. The drop in ownership between 2007 and 2010 continued a general downward trend observed in the SCF for some time; in 1998, 19.3 percent of families owned savings bonds (data not shown in the tables). Median holdings were unchanged over the recent three-year period, but the mean fell 11.6 percent.

Box 4. Decisions about Checking Accounts

Between 2007 and 2010, the proportion of families with any type of transaction account edged up (table 6 in the main text), while the share without a checking account fell 0.7 percentage point, from 10.3 percent to 9.6 percent (data not shown in the tables). The decline in the fraction of families without a checking account follows a longer trend; in 1989, the share was 18.7 percent. 1

Among families without a checking account in 2010, 55.5 percent had held such an account in the past, 59.1 percent had incomes in the lowest quintile of that distribution, 50.9 percent were headed by a person younger than age 45, and 66.0 percent were nonwhite or Hispanic. The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) asked all families that did not have a checking account to give a reason for not having an account (table A). The most commonly reported reason--given by 27.8 percent of such families--was that the family did not like dealing with banks; the percentage citing this reason has risen steadily since 1989. Another 20.3 percent did not write enough checks to make account ownership worthwhile; this reason had been the most frequently reported one in each of the years before 2007. Another 10.6 percent of families said that service charges were too high. The SCF showed a decrease in the fraction of families reporting credit problems as a reason--from 6.6 percent in 2007 to 4.2 percent in 2010; this reason had risen substantially through 2007 from previous years.


Table A. Distribution of reasons cited by respondents for their families' not having a checking account, by reason, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Reason 2001 2004 2007 2010
Do not write enough checks to make it worthwhile 28.5 27.9 18.7 20.3
Minimum balance is too high 6.5 5.6 7.6 7.4
Do not like dealing with banks 22.6 22.6 25.2 27.8
Service charges are too high 10.2 11.6 12.3 10.6
Cannot manage or balance a checking account 6.6 6.8 3.9 4.7
Do not have enough money 14.0 14.4 10.4 10.3
Credit problems 3.6 * 6.6 4.2
Do not need/want an account 5.1 5.2 8.9 7.3
Other 2.8 3.5 6.4 7.4
Total 100 100 100 100

* Ten or fewer observations in any of the types of income.

When attention is further restricted to families that once had a checking account (data not shown in the tables), the general pattern of responses is similar to that for all families without a checking account, but some differences are evident. For families that once had a checking account, the proportion reporting they do not have enough money, do not write enough checks, or do not need or want an account rose in 2010. These increases were offset by decreases in the proportion reporting they have credit problems, dislike dealing with banks, or cannot manage or balance a checking account.

The SCF asked all families with a checking account to give the most important reason they chose the financial institution for their main checking account (table B). In 2010, 46.0 percent of families chose the institution for their main checking account for reasons related to the location of the offices of the institution. 2Another 16.6 percent placed the most importance on the ability to obtain many services at one place, and 14.2 percent singled out the importance of obtaining the lowest fees or minimum balance requirements. Absence of risk was of primary importance for only a relatively small fraction of families. Over the 2007-10 period, the most noticeable changes in these responses were decreases in the fraction of families citing reasons related to a personal relationship with the bank or a connection through work or school. Overall, the fractions of families reporting each reason changed little from 2007.


Table B. Distribution of reasons cited by respondents as the most important reason for choosing institution for their main checking account, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Reason 2001 2004 2007 2010
Location of their offices 42.8 45.4 45.9 46.0
Had the lowest fees/minimum balance requirement 16.6 16.3 13.7 14.2
Able to obtain many services at one place 16.4 15.3 16.2 16.6
Recommended; friend/family has account there 4.7 3.9 4.2 4.0
Personal relationship; they know me; family member works there 4.0 3.5 4.2 3.3
Connection through work or school 2.0 3.5 3.3 2.1
Always done business there; banked there a long time; other business there 2.4 2.9 3.0 2.4
Offered safety and absence of risk 2.2 1.9 2.9 3.6
Other convenience; payroll deduction/direct deposit 1.3 1.2 .5 .7
Other 7.5 6.1 6.1 7.1
Total 100 100 100 100

1. For the definition of "transaction account," see the main text. For a more extensive discussion of the ways that families obtain checking and credit services, see Jeanne M. Hogarth, Christoslav E. Anguelov, and Jinhook Lee (2005), "Who Has a Bank Account? Exploring Changes over Time, 1989-2001," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, vol. 26 (Spring), pp. 7-30. Return to text

2. For a discussion of the definition of local banking markets, see Dean F. Amel, Arthur B. Kennickell, and Kevin B. Moore (2008), "Banking Market Definition: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-35 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, August; paper dated July 7). Return to text

Return to text

Other bond types tend to be very narrowly held, and the ownership rate was unchanged from 2007 at 1.6 percent in 2010.22 As shown in the following table, the proportion of families that owned tax-exempt bonds or corporate or foreign bonds increased slightly in the recent period, while ownership of other types of bonds declined slightly:


Table 6.2
Type of bond All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Government .3 -.1
Tax exempt 1.2 .2
Mortgage backed .2 -.1
Corporate or foreign .5 .1

Ownership of any type of bond other than savings bonds is concentrated among the highest tiers of the income and wealth distributions, and these groups saw little change in ownership from 2007 to 2010. The median value of holdings of such bonds for families that had them rose 63.5 percent over this period, while the mean rose 2.2 percent.

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Publicly Traded Stock

The direct ownership of publicly traded stocks is more widespread than the direct ownership of bonds, but, as with bonds, it is also concentrated among high-income and high-wealth families. The overall share of families with any such stock holdings declined 2.8 percentage points from 2007 to 2010, to 15.1 percent, thereby continuing a decrease observed since direct stock ownership peaked in the 2001 SCF at 21.3 percent (data not shown in the tables). Across demographic groups, declines in ownership were more common than increases, with the noticeable exception of families in the top decile of net worth, for whom ownership rose 2.5 percentage points. Ownership also rose slightly for families in the top decile of income (by 0.3 percentage point) and for families headed by a person who was self-employed (by 0.2 percentage point).

Although the major stock price indexes decreased about 25 percent over the 2007-10 period, the median amount of directly held stock for families with such assets rose 12.4 percent, and the mean fell only 9.5 percent. The seeming contradiction between the movement in the indexes and the movement in the median and mean may be explained, in part, by the exit of holders of smaller amounts of stocks.

The wide variation in changes observed across demographic groups reflects changes in ownership rates as well as changes in the composition of some of the demographic groups noted earlier. One noticeable such instance is the group of families included in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution in each year. The direct stock ownership rate for this group fell from 5.5 percent in 2007 to 3.8 percent in 2010, while median holdings for direct stock owners within the group rose from $4,000 in 2007 to $20,000 in 2010, a level that exceeded that for all but the highest income quintile group. An important part of the change in the median for the lowest income group may be explained by a change in the composition of the group to include a larger-than-usual fraction of families with relatively high net worth.

The great majority of families with directly held stock owned stock in only a small number of companies. As shown in the following table, over the three-year period, there were signs of increased diversification as the share of families owning stock in only one company decreased:


Table 6.3
Number of directly-held stocks Families with directly-held stocks
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
1 29.2 -7.2
2 to 9 53.0 5.4
10 or more 17.8 1.8

For 35.5 percent of stockowners in 2010, at least one of the companies in which they owned stock was one that employed, or had employed, the family head or that person's spouse or partner (data not shown in the tables). Direct ownership of stock in a foreign company was less common; only 15.3 percent of stockholders had this type of stock.

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Pooled Investment Funds

Directly held pooled investment funds are among the least commonly held of the types of financial assets shown in table 6.23 As was the case for directly held stocks, from 2007 to 2010, direct ownership of pooled investment funds fell--a decline of 2.7 percentage points, to 8.7 percent of families in 2010. Ownership of pooled investment funds dropped for almost every demographic group over the three-year period, though the decrease was very slight for the top decile of the net worth distribution. The ownership declines at both the overall level and the level of the demographic groups continue a pattern observed since 2001, when overall ownership of pooled investment funds was at 17.7 percent (data not shown in the tables).

The survey also collects information on the different types of pooled investment funds owned by families. Ownership shifted over the recent period away from stock funds and toward "other bond" funds (largely corporate bonds); the residual "other" category, which consists almost entirely of hedge funds and exchange-traded funds, also increased, as shown in the following table:


Table 6.4
Type of pooled investment fund All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Stock 7.7 -2.6
Tax-free bond 1.9 -.1
Government bond 1.0 -.2
Other bond 1.4 .4
Combination 1.4 .1
Other .9 .4

Among families owning pooled investment funds, the value of holdings has continued an increase seen over the preceding decade; in the recent three-year period, the median holding rose 36.3 percent, and the mean rose 19.8 percent. Median and mean values increased across almost every demographic group, evidence that the decrease in ownership may have been concentrated among families with relatively small account balances (data not shown in the tables).

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Retirement Accounts

Ownership of tax-deferred retirement assets such as personally established individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or job-based 401(k) accounts tends to increase with families' income and net worth.24 For several reasons, ownership is also more likely among families headed by a person less than 65 years of age than among the older groups. First, even though retirement accounts have been increasingly prevalent in the past 30 years, they may not have become available until relatively late in the careers of many persons in the older groups. Second, beginning in the year that a person reaches age 59-1/2, funds held by that person in retirement accounts may be withdrawn without penalty, and some in the two oldest age groups may have already done so. Third, families may have used funds from retirement accounts accumulated from previous employment to purchase an annuity at retirement; annuities are treated in the SCF as a separate type of managed asset.

From 2007 to 2010, the fraction of families with retirement accounts fell 2.6 percentage points to 50.4 percent; the decrease offset most of the 3.1 percentage point increase over the preceding three years. The overall rate of retirement account ownership has varied around 50 percent for about the past decade. In the recent three-year period, the fraction of families that had some type of account plan associated with a current or past job or that held an IRA or Keogh account decreased, and the fraction that had at least one account of each type declined as well, as shown in the following table:


Table 6.5
Type of retirement account All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Account plan from current or past job 35.1 -2.9
Individual retirement account or Keogh 28.1 -2.5
MEMO
Both types 12.6 -2.1

Over the 2007-10 period, ownership of retirement accounts decreased for nearly all of the groups considered here. The most noticeable declines in ownership were among families in the middle-income, middle-wealth, and middle-age groups; for those groups, retirement accounts had been growing in importance as a supplement to Social Security and other types of retirement income, and the decrease in ownership in the past three years may represent a setback in retirement preparedness. Across employment and occupation categories, the largest changes were the 3.1 percentage point drop in retirement account ownership among families whose head was working for someone else and the 7.2 percentage point drop for the technical, sales, or services occupation group.

In a reversal of a trend over the preceding decade, median holdings in retirement accounts decreased in the 2007-10 period; for families having such accounts, the median fell 6.6 percent. Mean balances continued to grow, however, at a rate of 10.7 percent over the three-year period. The patterns of changes in median account balances across demographic groups were mixed, but as with ownership rates, families in the middle-income, middle-wealth, and middle-age groups saw decreases in median account balances, while retirees and those with higher incomes and higher net worth saw noticeable increases.25

Although tax-deferred retirement assets are clearly an important element in retirement planning, families may hold a variety of other assets that are intended, at least in part, to finance retirement. Such other assets might also be used for contingencies as necessary. Similarly, a need for liquidity might drive a family to liquidate or borrow against a tax-deferred retirement asset, even if it will be assessed a penalty for doing so.

Two common and often particularly important types of retirement plans are not included in the assets described in this section: Social Security (the federally funded Old-Age and Survivors' Insurance program (OASI)) and employer-sponsored defined-benefit plans. OASI is well described elsewhere, and it covers the great majority of the population.26 The retirement income provided by defined-benefit plans is typically based on workers' salaries and years of work with an employer, a group of employers, or a union. Unfortunately, future income streams from OASI and defined-benefit plans cannot be translated directly into a current value because valuation depends critically on assumptions about future events and conditions--work decisions, earnings, inflation rates, discount rates, mortality, and so on--and no widely agreed-upon standards exist for making these assumptions.27

However, the SCF does contain substantial information for family heads and their spouse or partner regarding any defined-benefit plans or other types of plans with some kind of account feature to which they have rights from a current or past job.28 In 2010, 55.1 percent of families had rights to some type of plan other than OASI through the current or past work of either the family head or that person's spouse or partner, below the 57.7 percent level in 2007. For this group of families, the fraction with a standard defined-benefit plan with an annuity payout scheme increased slightly over the recent period, while the fraction with a plan with at least some account feature and the fraction that had both types of plans decreased, as shown in the following table:


Table 6.6
Type of pension plan Families with any pension plan
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Defined benefit 56.4 .6
Account plan 63.6 -2.2
MEMO
Both types 20.0 -1.6

In many pension plans with account features, contributions may be made by the employer, the worker, or both. In some cases, these contributions represent a substantial amount of saving, though workers may offset this saving by reducing their saving in other forms. An employer's contributions also represent additional income for the worker. In 2010, 85.4 percent of families with an account plan on a current job of either the family head or that person's spouse or partner had an employer that made contributions to the plan, a decline of 1.8 percentage points from 2007. In 2010, 91.9 percent of families with such plans made contributions themselves, an increase of 0.5 percentage point from 2007. The median annual contribution by employers who contributed to such accounts was $2,300 in 2010, and the median contribution by families who contributed was $3,000; both amounts were little changed from 2007 levels (data not shown in the tables).

The eligibility of working heads of families to participate in any type of job-related pension fell from 55.9 percent in 2007 to 52.9 percent in 2010; it had risen 1.1 percentage points over the preceding three years (data not shown in the tables). Participation by eligible workers is usually voluntary. In 2010, 84.3 percent of family heads who were eligible to participate elected to do so, up slightly from 83.8 percent in 2007.29 The choice to participate appears to be related strongly to income. In 2010, the fraction of eligible family heads declining to participate was progressively lower at higher income levels, and this general pattern was not substantially altered from 2007, as shown by the following table:


Table 6.7
Percentile of income Families headed by a person who was eligible for a work-related retirement plan on a current job and who declined to participate
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Less than 20 54.6 .3
20-39.9 26.8 -1.3
40-59.9 17.0 -1.5
60-79.9 14.3 3.8
80-89.9 7.7 -3.2
90-100 5.5 -1.0

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Cash Value Life Insurance

Cash value life insurance combines an investment vehicle with insurance coverage in the form of a death benefit.30 Some cash value life insurance policies offer a high degree of choice in the way the policy payments are invested. Investment returns on such policies are typically shielded from taxation until the money is withdrawn; if the funds remain untapped until the policyholder dies, the beneficiary of the policy may receive, tax-free, the death benefit. In contrast, term insurance, the other popular type of life insurance, offers only a death benefit. One attraction of cash value policies for some people is that they promote regular saving funded through the required policy premium.

Ownership of cash value life insurance is broadly spread across demographic groups, with a tendency toward increasing rates among families with higher levels of income and net worth and those with older family heads. The change in ownership of cash value policies over the 2007-10 period continued a declining trend, decreasing 3.3 percentage points, to 19.7 percent of families in 2010. The decline was shared by virtually all demographic groups; the only group with a noticeable increase in ownership is families headed by someone aged 75 or older. Over the three-year period, ownership of any type of life insurance, cash value or term, also fell--from 64.9 percent in 2007 to 62.6 percent in 2010 (data not shown in the tables). Of those families with some type of life insurance, the proportion with term policies was about unchanged, while the proportion with cash value policies fell; these changes are similar to trends observed in the earlier surveys.

After rising over the previous three-year period, the median value of cash value life insurance for families that had any such insurance fell 13.1 percent between 2007 and 2010, and the mean fell 13.1 percent. The median showed a mix of increases and decreases across demographic groups, although it declined considerably for younger families, single families with children, families headed by a person who was self-employed or working for someone else, and families headed by someone working in a technical, sales, or service occupation.

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Other Managed Assets

Ownership of other managed assets--personal annuities and trusts with an equity interest and managed investment accounts--is concentrated among families with higher levels of income and wealth and among families headed by a person who is aged 55 or older or who is retired.31 Ownership of these assets was little changed between 2007 and 2010, following a more substantial decrease over the previous three years. Changes in ownership rates across demographic groups were mixed in the recent three-year period, with the vast majority of 2010 values within 2 percentage points of the corresponding 2007 values. Across all families, the fraction with an annuity was nearly unchanged over the period, and the fraction with a trust or managed investment account edged down, as shown in the following table:


Table 6.8
Type of other managed asset All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Annuity 4.5 .1
Trust or managed investment account 1.3 -.3
MEMO
Both types .2 -.1

Between 2007 and 2010, the median value of other managed assets for families that had such assets decreased 4.5 percent, offsetting some of the substantial increase in the preceding three-year period. Over the more recent period, the corresponding mean value fell 4.9 percent. Changes in median holdings varied greatly across demographic groups--for example, increasing substantially in the top two income groups, but falling by more than 60 percent in the group of families headed by someone aged 35 to 44. For families with an equity interest in an annuity, the median holding increased 14.5 percent, to $60,000 in 2010; for families with a trust or managed investment account as defined in this article, the median holding fell 13.3 percent, to $109,000 (data not shown in the tables).

As noted in the discussion of retirement accounts, some families use settlements from retirement accounts to purchase an annuity. In 2010, 35.0 percent of families with annuities had done so (data not shown in the tables). Of these families, 73.7 percent had an equity interest in their annuities.

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Other Financial Assets

Ownership of other financial assets--a heterogeneous category including oil and gas leases, futures contracts, royalties, proceeds from lawsuits or estates in settlement, and loans made to others--fell 1.3 percentage points between 2007 and 2010, to 8.0 percent. Ownership of such assets tends to be more common among higher income and wealth groups, younger age groups, and families headed by a person who is self-employed or retired. Ownership across demographic groups generally declined over this period, while the median holding for those who had such assets decreased 20.6 percent, to $5,000.

Holdings may be grouped into four categories: cash, which includes money owed to families by other persons; future proceeds, which include amounts to be received from a lawsuit, estate, or other type of settlement; employment and business-related items, which include deferred compensation, royalties, futures contracts, and derivatives; and other. As shown in the following table, the proportion of families holding various types of other financial assets remained fairly constant over the three-year period, with cash being by far the most frequently held component:


Table 6.9
Type of other financial asset All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Cash 6.8 -1.3
Future proceeds .8 -.1
Business items .4
Other .2 .2

† Less than 0.05 percent.

Some publicly traded companies offer stock options to their employees as a form of compensation.32 Although stock options, when executed, may represent an appreciable part of a family's net worth, the survey does not specifically ask for the value of these options.33 Instead, the survey asks whether the family head or that person's spouse or partner had been given stock options by an employer during the preceding year. In 2010, 6.2 percent of families reported having received stock options, a decline of 2.1 percentage points below the level in 2007; this decrease continues a downward trend since the peak of 11.4 percent recorded in the SCF in 2001 (data not shown in the tables).


Table 7. Direct and indirect family holdings of stock, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys
Percent except as noted
Family characteristic Families having stock holdings, direct or indirect Median value among families with holdings (thousands of 2010 dollars) Stock holdings as share of group's financial assets
2001 2004 2007 2010 2001 2004 2007 2010 2001 2004 2007 2010
All families 52.3 50.3 53.2 49.9 42.3 37.7 35.5 29.0 56.0 51.4 54.0 47.0
Percentile of income
Less than 20 12.9 11.7 14.3 12.5 9.2 8.6 6.3 5.3 37.4 32.0 39.2 40.5
20-39.9 34.3 29.8 36.5 30.5 9.2 11.5 8.7 7.1 35.6 30.9 34.6 31.3
40-59.9 52.6 51.9 52.9 51.7 18.4 16.9 18.3 12.0 46.8 43.4 39.5 37.5
60-79.9 75.9 69.9 73.3 68.1 35.5 30.6 35.2 22.3 52.0 41.9 53.1 41.6
80-89.9 82.1 83.9 86.3 82.6 79.2 65.0 66.1 57.9 57.3 48.9 50.5 44.4
90-100 89.7 92.7 91.5 90.6 305.2 235.8 234.7 267.5 60.4 57.6 58.3 50.9
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 49.1 40.8 41.6 39.8 8.6 9.2 6.8 7.0 52.5 40.4 45.6 39.3
35-44 59.7 54.5 55.9 50.1 33.7 23.0 25.7 19.8 57.2 53.7 54.7 50.5
45-54 59.4 56.6 63.1 58.0 61.3 57.5 47.1 37.8 59.2 53.8 54.5 48.6
55-64 57.4 63.2 60.8 59.7 98.6 80.5 81.7 56.0 56.0 55.2 55.6 48.3
65-74 40.0 46.9 53.1 45.6 184.2 80.5 58.1 78.1 55.4 51.5 55.6 44.2
75 or more 35.7 34.8 40.2 42.0 134.8 98.8 47.1 55.0 51.8 39.3 48.2 44.6
Housing status
Owner 62.5 61.0 64.6 61.3 61.3 51.8 41.9 39.9 56.7 52.0 54.5 47.5
Renter or other 31.0 26.5 28.1 26.3 8.6 10.1 8.2 6.0 46.1 39.3 46.2 37.3

Note: Indirect holdings are those in pooled investment trusts, retirement accounts, and other managed assets. See also note to table 1.

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Direct and Indirect Holdings of Publicly Traded Stocks

Families may hold stocks in publicly traded companies directly or indirectly, and information about each of these forms of ownership is collected separately in the SCF. When direct and indirect forms are combined, the 2010 data show a decline in stock ownership to levels not seen in the SCF since the late 1990s (table 7). Between 2007 and 2010, the fraction of families holding any such stock fell 3.3 percentage points to 49.9 percent, a level well below the 2007 peak. Much like ownership of directly held stock, ownership of direct and indirect equity holdings is more common among higher-income groups and among families headed by a person aged 35 to 64. Over the recent three-year period, ownership decreased for all income groups. Across age groups, ownership fell the most--7.5 percentage points--for families headed by persons aged 65 to 74; for other age groups, the declines were much more modest, and for some, ownership rates were basically unchanged or rose slightly.

The overall median value of direct and indirect stock holdings dropped 18.3 percent between 2007 and 2010. Changes in the median value across demographic groups were generally negative, with the exception of the highest income decile and families headed by a person aged less than 35 or by a person aged 65 or older. As a proportion of financial assets, holdings fell from 54.0 percent in 2007 to 47.0 percent in 2010. The lowest income quintile is the only demographic group that saw an increase in the share of financial assets held in stocks, rising from 39.2 percent in 2007 to 40.5 percent in 2010.

Among families that held equity, either directly or indirectly in 2010, ownership through a tax-deferred retirement account was most common, followed by direct holdings of stocks, direct holdings of pooled investment funds, and managed investment accounts or an equity interest in a trust or annuity. Over the 2007-10 period, ownership of equity holdings through tax-deferred accounts rose, while both direct ownership of equity and ownership through pooled investment funds fell. Ownership of equity through a trust or annuity was basically unchanged. The fraction of equity owners with multiple types also declined, as shown in the following table:


Table 7.1
Type of direct or indirect equity Families with equity
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Tax-deferred account 85.9 .9
Directly held stock 30.3 -3.4
Directly held pooled investment fund 16.6 -3.7
Managed investment account, or equity interest in a trust or annuity 8.1 .3
MEMO
Multiple types 32.8 -3.6

The distribution of amounts of holdings over these types of equities shows a different pattern. Of the total amount of equity, 42.3 percent was held in tax-deferred retirement accounts, 30.9 percent as directly held stocks, 20.4 percent as directly held pooled investment funds, and 6.4 percent as other managed assets (data not shown in the tables).

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Nonfinancial Assets

By definition, a decrease in nonfinancial assets as a share of total assets from 2007 to 2010 must exactly offset the 3.9 percentage point rise in the share of financial assets from 2007 to 2010 that was discussed earlier in this article (table 5). In any given survey, the changes in these shares are driven by spending decisions, changes in portfolio choices, portfolio valuation, or all three. Between 2007 and 2010, the largest drivers were declines in house values and business equity.

Over the 2007 to 2010 period, housing as a share of total nonfinancial assets fell 0.6 percentage point, while business equity as a share of total nonfinancial assets fell 1.5 percentage points (table 8). However, housing is a much larger share of total nonfinancial assets than business equity in any given year, so the two asset types account for roughly the same share of the overall decline in the ratio of nonfinancial to total assets. That is, of the 3.9 percentage point decrease in the overall shareof nonfinancial assets, housing and business equity each accounted for approximately 2.2 percentage points. Other residential property contributed slightly to the decline (0.2 percentage point). These drops in asset shares were offset by a 0.8 percentage point increase in the share of vehicles and a 0.9 percentage point increase in the share of nonresidential property.


Table 8. Value of nonfinancial assets of all families, distributed by type of asset, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Type of nonfinancial asset 2001 2004 2007 2010
Vehicles 1 5.9 5.1 4.4 5.2
Primary residence 46.9 50.3 48.0 47.4
Other residential property 8.1 9.9 10.7 11.2
Equity in nonresidential property 8.2 7.3 5.8 6.7
Business equity 29.3 25.9 29.7 28.2
Other 1.6 1.5 1.3 1.3
Total 100 100 100 100
MEMO
Nonfinancial assets as a share of total assets 57.8 64.2 66.0 62.1

Note: See note to table 1.

1. For definition, see text note 34. Return to table


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Percentage of families holding asset
All families 87.0 68.6 13.8 8.1 13.6 7.2 92.0 97.7
Percentile of income
Less than 20 64.4 41.4 5.4 2.5 3.3 3.9 73.5 89.8
20-39.9 85.9 55.2 6.5 3.9 5.3 5.7 91.2 98.9
40-59.9 94.3 69.3 9.9 7.5 10.6 7.4 97.2 100.0
60-79.9 95.4 83.9 15.4 9.4 18.1 7.2 98.5 100.0
80-89.9 95.6 92.6 21.0 13.6 20.0 9.0 99.6 100.0
90-100 94.8 94.3 42.2 21.0 40.9 14.1 99.7 100.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 85.4 40.6 5.6 3.2 8.0 5.8 88.2 97.1
35-44 87.5 66.1 12.0 7.5 18.2 5.5 91.3 96.9
45-54 90.3 77.3 15.7 9.5 17.2 8.7 95.0 97.6
55-64 92.2 81.0 20.9 11.5 18.1 8.5 95.6 99.1
65-74 90.6 85.5 18.9 12.3 11.2 9.1 94.5 98.4
75 or more 71.5 77.0 13.4 6.8 4.5 5.8 87.3 98.1
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 77.3 48.9 7.4 4.3 7.5 5.4 85.0 93.8
Single, no child, age less than 55 78.4 43.4 6.2 3.2 8.8 7.6 83.6 94.8
Single, no child, age 55 or more 73.7 67.5 12.1 7.1 3.6 5.9 85.0 97.6
Couple with child(ren) 94.9 78.1 15.5 9.8 18.5 6.3 97.4 99.2
Couple, no child 94.0 80.1 19.4 10.9 18.4 9.3 97.0 99.4
Education of head
No high school diploma 73.7 52.8 5.8 2.6 5.9 2.2 80.9 91.7
High school diploma 87.5 68.9 10.0 7.3 9.5 5.1 92.2 97.7
Some college 86.7 62.3 13.2 6.5 12.7 7.0 91.0 98.6
College degree 91.9 77.8 20.6 11.9 20.7 11.0 96.6 99.6

In 2010, the level of ownership of nonfinancial assets was 91.3 percent of families, 0.7 percentage point lower than in 2007 (first half of tables 9.Aand 9.B, next-to-last column). Across most of the demographic groups shown, the 2010 ownership rate was 80 percent or more; exceptions were the lowest income and wealth groups, families headed by a person who was neither working nor retired, and renters. Over the 2007-10 period, ownership fell most for the less-than-35 age group, childless single families headed by someone younger than age 55, nonwhite or Hispanic families, families living in the South or the West, and families in the lowest quartile of the net worth distribution.

Over the recent period, the median holdings of nonfinancial assets for families having any such assets fell 16.8 percent, and the mean fell 17.6 percent. Across demographic groups, substantial declines in the medians far outnumbered increases. The largest drops in the median value occurred for the lowest quintile of the income distribution; families headed by someone with less than a high school diploma; families headed by someone working in technical, sales, or service occupations; and families in the second quartile of the net worth distribution. Median holdings inched up for a few demographic groups whose total nonfinancial holdings tend to be relatively low and that are generally not dominated by housing or business assets.


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 89.6 75.6 15.3 9.0 15.8 8.3 94.6 98.9
Nonwhite or Hispanic 80.9 51.9 10.0 5.9 8.2 4.3 85.8 94.9
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 91.3 67.2 11.9 7.0 7.7 7.1 94.4 98.7
Self-employed 90.6 82.4 26.5 17.3 74.9 11.0 97.6 99.7
Retired 78.6 72.9 14.6 7.7 3.8 5.4 87.2 96.1
Other not working 69.3 33.1 3.8 4.7 3.7 8.2 74.8 90.0
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 93.1 78.2 20.7 10.8 25.4 9.9 97.2 99.8
Technical, sales, or services 87.4 61.5 10.2 7.3 10.8 7.7 91.6 97.8
Other occupation 92.6 66.3 9.6 6.7 14.7 4.9 95.2 98.5
Retired or other not working 77.1 66.7 12.9 7.2 3.8 5.8 85.2 95.2
Region
Northeast 75.4 66.1 13.3 5.6 9.1 5.5 84.2 94.6
Midwest 89.5 71.3 13.7 8.4 15.4 6.4 93.4 98.4
South 89.2 70.1 11.3 8.8 12.6 7.2 93.8 98.5
West 90.5 65.4 18.3 8.7 16.9 9.3 94.1 98.4
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 86.2 68.1 14.2 7.6 13.9 7.6 91.5 97.7
Non-MSA 90.9 71.1 11.7 10.7 11.8 5.1 94.3 97.9
Housing status
Owner 93.8 100.0 17.5 10.8 17.5 8.0 100.0 100.0
Renter or other 72.3 * 5.6 2.1 5.0 5.3 74.5 92.8
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 69.5 13.7 * * 2.3 2.4 71.6 91.0
25-49.9 91.2 72.2 7.1 3.7 7.5 6.4 97.7 100.0
50-74.9 93.3 92.8 11.9 7.6 13.4 7.8 99.5 100.0
75-89.9 94.5 95.2 26.4 16.5 19.6 7.3 99.0 100.0
90-100 93.6 96.8 47.5 27.2 48.3 19.0 99.6 100.0

Vehicles

Vehicles continue to be the most commonly held nonfinancial asset.34 From 2007 to 2010, the share of families that owned some type of vehicle edged down 0.3 percentage point to 86.7 percent. Trends in ownership rates over the recent three years were mixed across most demographic groups. Across age groups, ownership decreased for the less-than-35 and 55-to-74 age groups while rising for the 75-or-more age category. Vehicle ownership decreased for single families without children headed by someone younger than age 55; families headed by a person with a high school degree, some college, or a college degree; families headed by a person who was working for someone else, self-employed, or included in any occupation group except retired; nonwhite or Hispanic families; families living in the South or the West; and renters.


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Median value of holdings for families holding asset (thousands of 2010 dollars)
All families 16.2 209.5 154.0 78.6 96.6 14.7 185.9 232.1
Percentile of income
Less than 20 5.9 104.8 62.9 68.1 52.4 3.1 41.9 24.6
20-39.9 9.6 125.7 60.2 62.9 20.4 6.3 80.9 89.0
40-59.9 15.3 157.2 104.8 41.9 32.2 10.5 145.6 192.2
60-79.9 21.4 225.3 125.7 74.4 57.8 15.7 258.0 359.8
80-89.9 26.6 314.3 183.3 75.4 75.5 21.0 377.3 593.6
90-100 35.5 523.8 340.5 183.3 397.6 78.6 838.0 1,423.2
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 14.0 183.3 89.1 52.4 36.7 8.7 32.3 40.7
35-44 18.3 214.8 157.2 52.4 61.8 10.5 191.3 232.9
45-54 19.6 241.0 157.2 83.8 80.5 15.7 235.6 320.6
55-64 18.2 220.0 164.5 94.3 104.8 21.0 244.2 365.1
65-74 15.3 209.5 157.2 78.6 314.3 21.0 222.3 317.8
75 or more 9.8 157.2 104.8 115.2 235.7 26.2 164.5 229.8
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 9.0 157.2 52.4 45.1 52.4 10.5 85.2 74.4
Single, no child, age less than 55 10.3 162.4 157.2 52.4 34.0 8.7 56.6 61.5
Single, no child, age 55 or more 8.0 151.9 83.8 78.6 261.9 10.5 141.4 191.5
Couple with child(ren) 22.6 251.4 157.2 68.1 94.3 15.7 249.3 312.1
Couple, no child 20.2 220.0 188.6 104.8 104.8 24.6 240.7 342.4
Education of head
No high school diploma 10.9 128.4 68.1 131.0 61.8 13.8 88.4 67.7
High school diploma 13.9 157.2 79.6 52.4 94.3 7.6 144.2 169.6
Some college 15.2 201.2 104.8 55.3 47.1 13.6 164.8 195.2
College degree 20.8 293.4 209.5 94.3 104.8 23.0 303.2 456.5

Note: See note to table 1.

Given the slowdown in purchases of new cars during the period between 2007 and 2010 noted earlier and the consequent aging of families' holdings of vehicles, it is not surprising that the median market value of vehicles for those who owned at least one vehicle declined 5.6 percent from 2007 to 2010, and the mean declined 4.3 percent.35 Indeed, the median value of vehicle holdings was flat or rising only for higher-income or higher-wealth groups, families headed by someone aged 65 or older, and families in the other-not-working work-status group. The largest declines in the median were observed for the third and fourth quintiles of income, the lowest three quartiles of wealth, and families headed by someone younger than 55 years of age. Continuing a trend, the share of the total value of owned vehicles attributable to sport utility vehicles rose over the recent period from 21.5 percent to 23.8 percent (data not shown in the tables).


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
A. 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 17.9 209.5 143.0 78.6 104.8 15.7 213.8 285.2
Nonwhite or Hispanic 12.5 188.6 183.3 65.7 52.4 8.4 106.8 93.5
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 17.8 209.5 125.7 55.3 21.0 10.5 175.1 223.5
Self-employed 23.2 314.3 314.3 159.8 110.0 52.4 476.7 569.8
Retired 11.9 162.4 104.8 78.6 157.2 13.8 163.4 213.2
Other not working 7.2 167.6 136.7 51.1 98.1 2.6 30.7 29.1
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 21.2 282.9 209.5 110.0 118.8 21.0 292.2 431.0
Technical, sales, or services 15.1 209.5 131.0 89.1 26.2 15.7 162.4 195.9
Other occupation 17.5 165.4 94.3 38.8 61.8 10.5 142.0 165.1
Retired or other not working 10.9 162.4 104.8 78.6 157.2 13.1 154.5 186.0
Region
Northeast 15.1 288.1 199.1 117.3 104.8 21.0 261.9 304.2
Midwest 15.2 162.4 115.2 55.3 104.8 10.5 165.0 214.5
South 16.3 167.6 125.7 74.9 62.9 15.7 152.7 189.6
West 17.9 314.3 225.3 94.3 99.5 14.7 263.5 308.5
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 16.6 230.5 157.2 86.4 98.1 14.1 203.2 255.7
Non-MSA 15.1 120.5 99.5 52.4 94.3 23.0 124.2 156.3
Housing status
Owner 19.3 209.5 157.2 83.8 104.8 21.0 265.6 361.4
Renter or other 9.0 * 89.1 39.8 34.6 5.6 10.6 14.2
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 7.2 89.2 * * .5 1.4 9.0 8.5
25-49.9 13.7 104.8 31.4 26.2 12.0 7.9 100.4 113.4
50-74.9 18.3 209.5 62.9 41.9 52.4 13.6 240.8 319.3
75-89.9 22.9 330.0 153.0 86.4 104.8 31.4 460.1 721.6
90-100 32.8 588.6 419.1 279.4 639.1 71.2 1,215.3 2,211.1
MEMO
Mean value of holdings for families holding asset 23.1 316.9 352.3 324.2 991.4 84.6 492.0 702.1

* Ten or fewer observations.

Some families have vehicles that they lease or that are provided to them by an employer for personal use. The share of families having a vehicle from any source fell 0.7 percentage point over the recent period, to 88.9 percent (data not shown in the tables). The small difference between this rate and the ownership rate for personally owned vehicles belies a larger change in the rates of holding for leased and employer-provided vehicles. The proportion of families with a leased vehicle fell from 5.2 percent in 2007 to 3.0 percent in 2010, while that of families with an employer-provided vehicle fell less dramatically, from 6.8 percent to 6.4 percent over the recent period.

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Primary Residence and Other Residential Real Estate

The homeownership rate fell 1.3 percentage points over the 2007-10 period, to 67.3 percent.36 Homeownership had fallen in the previous three-year period as well after reaching a peak of 69.1 percent of families in 2004. The 2010 homeownership rate is roughly the same as it was in 2001, which was 3.0 percentage points higher than the rate in1995 (data not shown in the tables).


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Percentage of families holding asset
All families 86.7 67.3 14.4 7.7 13.3 7.0 91.3 97.4
Percentile of income
Less than 20 64.9 37.2 4.4 3.9 5.1 2.7 72.0 89.9
20-39.9 85.4 55.9 7.4 5.2 6.6 4.4 90.7 98.0
40-59.9 91.8 71.1 11.6 6.3 10.6 7.3 96.0 99.5
60-79.9 95.4 80.7 16.0 7.9 15.5 9.3 98.6 99.9
80-89.9 96.4 90.6 22.8 11.4 19.3 10.8 99.4 100.0
90-100 95.7 92.4 42.1 18.8 37.6 12.3 99.4 100.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 79.4 37.5 4.5 2.3 8.4 6.1 82.8 95.5
35-44 88.9 63.8 9.7 3.9 11.2 4.2 92.7 97.4
45-54 91.0 75.2 17.0 7.5 16.8 6.7 94.7 98.3
55-64 90.3 78.1 22.1 12.6 19.6 9.6 94.4 98.3
65-74 86.5 82.6 22.8 11.0 15.8 11.0 92.6 97.1
75 or more 83.4 81.9 14.6 13.4 6.0 6.0 93.0 98.7
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 79.1 52.0 6.2 4.0 5.2 3.9 84.5 94.6
Single, no child, age less than 55 74.6 40.2 6.3 2.4 7.4 5.7 80.7 95.3
Single, no child, age 55 or more 76.3 66.7 11.8 8.2 6.6 8.0 86.8 96.6
Couple with child(ren) 94.8 75.6 15.5 7.1 17.0 5.9 97.0 99.0
Couple, no child 93.2 79.7 22.6 12.8 19.5 10.0 96.3 98.5
Education of head
No high school diploma 76.2 54.3 5.0 3.3 5.2 1.3 82.2 92.5
High school diploma 85.8 64.7 10.0 6.9 10.9 5.5 90.5 96.5
Some college 85.4 61.5 11.7 6.4 11.2 7.6 89.6 98.2
College degree 91.5 76.6 22.4 10.4 18.9 9.9 95.9 99.5

In 2010, groups that had an ownership rate less than the overall rate included nonwhite or Hispanic families; families with relatively low income or wealth; families living in the Northeast or the West; single families; and families headed by a person who was working for someone else, who was neither working nor retired, who was aged less than 45, or who had less than a college degree. Over the three-year period, homeownership fell most for the lowest quintile of the income distribution; families in the second quartile of the net worth distribution; families headed by a person who was self-employed or working in a technical, sales, or service job; and families headed by a high school graduate. Across geographic Regions, the decline in ownership was most pronounced in the South and West Regions but also fell in the Northeast; in contrast, the Midwest saw a 2.0 percentage point increase in homeownership.


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 90.9 75.3 16.5 9.4 15.6 8.8 94.9 99.1
Nonwhite or Hispanic 78.1 50.6 9.9 4.2 8.3 3.3 84.0 94.1
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 89.9 64.8 11.9 5.5 6.6 6.4 92.8 98.3
Self-employed 88.5 78.4 28.3 17.5 71.1 12.0 96.4 98.8
Retired 82.4 74.6 15.0 9.6 4.5 6.8 89.2 96.3
Other not working 72.8 42.9 8.7 2.8 4.1 4.8 78.6 92.5
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 91.0 76.1 22.9 10.7 25.9 9.6 95.7 99.7
Technical, sales, or services 86.7 56.0 9.7 5.1 9.6 5.1 90.1 97.7
Other occupation 91.1 66.6 8.4 5.6 13.8 6.6 93.8 97.1
Retired or other not working 80.3 67.8 13.7 8.1 4.4 6.3 86.9 95.5
Region
Northeast 78.5 65.0 15.3 5.9 11.1 5.5 85.6 95.1
Midwest 90.1 73.3 11.0 7.6 13.0 5.8 93.8 98.0
South 87.5 67.6 14.1 9.4 12.5 6.6 92.1 97.5
West 88.8 62.5 17.4 6.4 16.6 10.2 92.4 98.7
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 86.0 65.9 14.9 7.2 13.4 6.9 90.6 97.4
Non-MSA 90.2 73.9 11.9 10.1 12.3 7.8 95.0 97.8
Housing status
Owner 93.9 100.0 19.1 10.5 17.0 8.4 100.0 100.0
Renter or other 71.9 * 4.6 1.9 5.5 4.2 73.6 92.2
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 67.4 21.8 2.8 .8 2.9 2.5 69.7 89.8
25-49.9 91.6 61.3 4.6 2.1 6.1 4.9 96.8 100.0
50-74.9 93.2 90.1 13.1 7.8 12.9 7.3 99.2 100.0
75-89.9 94.3 95.3 27.1 14.9 20.8 9.2 99.6 100.0
90-100 95.2 97.1 51.7 27.9 46.6 19.7 99.9 100.0

Housing wealth represents a large component of total family wealth; in 2010, primary residences accounted for 29.5 percent of total family assets. Over the 2007-10 period, this percentage declined 2.2 percentage points overall. The relative importance of housing in the total asset portfolio varies substantially over the income distribution, with housing generally constituting a progressively smaller share of assets with increasing levels of income, as shown in the following table:


Table 9.1
Family characteristic House value as a percentage of all assets in group
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
All families 29.5 -2.2
Percentile of income
Less than 20 35.6 -11.5
20-39.9 50.6 -1.2
40-59.9 44.8 -3.5
60-79.9 42.7 -2.5
80-89.9 37.5 -6.9
90-100 19.2 -.6

The median and mean values of the primary residences of homeowners fell between 2007 and 2010; overall, the median decreased 18.9 percent, and the mean fell 17.6 percent. These percentage losses in the median and mean translated into large dollar losses: $39,500 for the median and $55,700 for the mean. Homeowners in virtually all demographic groups saw losses in the median, and most of those losses were substantial; the one exception was the lowest quartile of the net worth distribution, where homeownership jumped 8.1 percentage points and the median home value increased 31.2 percent, most likely reflecting a compositional shift within that lowest wealth group. Otherwise, substantial decreases in median housing values were widespread.

In 2010, 14.4 percent of families owned some form of residential real estate other than a primary residence (second homes, time-shares, one- to four-family rental properties, and other types of residential properties), a level that is up 0.6 percentage point from the corresponding figure in 2007 and up 1.9 percentage points since 2004 (data not shown in the tables).37 Although the survey does not ask directly about ownership of second homes, such homes should largely be captured as residential properties that are owned 100 percent by the family and for which no rent was collected; in 2010, 5.8 percent of families had at least one such property, down 0.3 percentage point from 2007 but still 1.2 percentage points higher than in 2004.


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Median value of holdings for families holding asset (thousands of 2010 dollars)
All families 15.3 170.0 120.0 65.0 78.7 15.0 154.6 187.2
Percentile of income
Less than 20 5.8 89.0 82.0 36.0 25.0 5.3 23.6 15.2
20-39.9 9.3 110.0 70.0 60.0 25.3 5.0 73.5 75.4
40-59.9 13.8 135.0 82.0 60.0 44.7 10.0 131.2 159.8
60-79.9 20.1 175.0 71.0 50.0 50.0 13.0 198.3 267.0
80-89.9 27.9 250.0 120.0 58.0 82.4 22.0 311.1 448.4
90-100 35.8 475.0 320.0 200.0 455.0 35.0 756.4 1,486.7
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 12.4 140.0 72.0 24.0 30.0 5.0 34.2 35.7
35-44 16.5 170.0 75.0 50.0 50.0 10.0 142.8 156.3
45-54 18.4 200.0 103.5 50.0 80.0 15.0 191.4 248.4
55-64 17.8 185.0 165.0 102.0 100.0 20.0 206.6 286.6
65-74 16.0 165.0 125.0 60.0 100.0 28.1 199.8 281.7
75 or more 10.6 150.0 125.0 65.0 220.9 26.0 168.2 237.7
Family structure
Single with child(ren) 9.7 134.0 100.0 50.0 20.0 15.0 79.0 70.0
Single, no child, age less than 55 9.6 135.2 70.0 75.0 43.0 7.0 56.9 50.1
Single, no child, age 55 or more 7.5 130.0 151.0 50.0 80.3 15.0 115.5 143.9
Couple with child(ren) 21.3 190.0 120.0 60.0 75.0 12.0 193.4 233.9
Couple, no child 20.3 180.0 120.0 75.0 109.0 20.0 209.0 306.7
Education of head
No high school diploma 9.7 95.0 75.0 30.0 27.8 5.0 59.0 47.8
High school diploma 13.3 130.0 62.5 58.0 64.1 8.0 122.2 138.4
Some college 14.5 150.0 65.0 35.0 110.0 14.4 136.2 150.1
College degree 19.5 250.0 190.0 100.0 88.0 20.0 251.5 352.6

Note: See note to table 1.


Table 9. Family holdings of nonfinancial assets and of any asset, by selected characteristics of families and type of asset, 2007 and 2010 surveys-- continued
B. 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances-- continued
Family characteristic Vehicles Primary residence Other residential property Equity in nonresidential property Business equity Other Any nonfinancial asset Any asset
Race or ethnicity of respondent
White non-Hispanic 16.7 175.0 140.0 75.0 97.2 15.0 183.6 238.9
Nonwhite or Hispanic 12.3 139.0 70.0 50.0 43.0 10.0 86.0 76.8
Current work status of head
Working for someone else 16.3 170.0 96.0 50.0 25.0 10.0 142.7 165.7
Self-employed 21.7 270.0 250.0 132.0 100.0 30.0 370.0 440.2
Retired 11.7 150.0 100.0 62.5 125.5 25.0 155.9 198.0
Other not working 10.7 135.0 60.0 46.6 37.6 10.0 56.7 41.0
Current occupation of head
Managerial or professional 20.8 250.0 200.0 100.0 102.0 23.0 260.0 347.5
Technical, sales, or services 12.7 153.0 70.0 50.0 27.0 8.0 107.6 115.5
Other occupation 17.2 130.0 57.0 50.0 51.5 8.0 125.0 147.2
Retired or other not working 11.5 150.0 98.0 62.0 81.6 22.0 139.9 163.3
Region
Northeast 16.2 260.0 154.0 65.0 70.0 30.0 220.4 260.0
Midwest 13.6 135.0 86.5 70.0 100.0 10.0 142.1 174.9
South 15.4 141.7 100.0 50.0 80.3 15.0 134.3 153.1
West 16.3 230.0 170.0 159.4 52.8 15.0 189.1 216.8
Urbanicity
Metropolitan statistical area (MSA) 15.5 181.0 135.0 70.0 73.6 15.0 168.0 200.0
Non-MSA 14.4 100.0 75.0 60.0 104.5 12.5 111.6 140.1
Housing status
Owner 18.8 170.0 120.0 70.0 95.0 20.0 217.0 296.2
Renter or other 8.5 * 120.0 22.5 25.0 5.3 9.7 12.6
Percentile of net worth
Less than 25 6.9 117.0 60.0 3.0 1.2 5.0 9.4 7.4
25-49.9 11.7 95.5 25.0 10.0 11.6 5.0 60.0 69.1
50-74.9 17.7 150.0 48.0 30.0 40.0 13.0 181.6 240.3
75-89.9 22.7 250.0 120.0 65.0 125.0 20.6 360.7 583.8
90-100 32.7 531.5 350.0 250.0 600.0 50.0 1,114.3 2,082.8
MEMO
Mean value of holdings for families holding asset 22.1 261.2 288.9 321.6 788.3 66.5 405.5 612.3

* Ten or fewer observations.

Ownership of other residential real estate is more common among the highest income and wealth groups; the age groups between 45 and 74; or families headed by a self-employed person, a person working in a management or professional occupation, or a person who was a college graduate. Over the recent three-year period, the median and mean values of other residential real estate decreased roughly in line with the median and mean values of primary residences over the recent period; the median for those having such real estate fell 22.1 percent, and the mean fell 18.0 percent. Most of the demographic groups saw substantial declines in the median; exceptions were generally groups where ownership of other residential real estate is low, including the first and second quintiles of income groups, families headed by someone with less than a high school degree, and families that rented their primary residence.

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Net Equity in Nonresidential Real Estate

The ownership of nonresidential real estate fell slightly, to 7.7 percent of families in 2010.38 Ownership follows approximately the same relative distribution across demographic groups as does the ownership of other residential real estate. Changes in ownership during the recent period were mixed across demographic groups. Ownership fell most for families in the age groups between 35 and 54; couples with children; families headed by someone working in a technical, sales, or service occupation; and families living in the West Region. Overall, the median value of such property for owners fell 17.3 percent, and the mean fell 0.8 percent. Particularly large swings in the median value were seen for groups with below-average ownership rates, suggesting that these changes are likely to be due at least in part to sampling variability.

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Net Equity in Privately Held Businesses

The share of families that owned a privately held business interest edged down 0.3 percentage point during the recent period, to 13.3 percent in 2010.39 The proportion has changed little over the past several surveys. Ownership of this type of asset tends to increase with income, wealth, and education and to be the highest for families headed by a person who is aged 45 to 64, who is married or living with a partner, or who has a college degree. Business ownership is about three times as prevalent among homeowners as renters; it is generally lowest in the Northeast and highest in the West. Over the recent three-year period, changes in ownership varied across demographic groups, with relatively large declines observed for families headed by someone 35 to 44 years of age, higher-income families, and families living in the Midwest Region. Ownership also fell among families headed by a person who was self-employed, from 74.9 percent in 2007 to 71.1 percent in 2010.

As noted earlier, equity in privately held businesses makes up a large portion of families' total nonfinancial assets. Over the recent period, privately held business assets as a share of nonfinancial assets fell 2.1 percentage points. Across income-distribution groups, the share of nonfinancial assets attributable to business equity has a U-shape, with the largest shares at the top and bottom of the income distribution, as shown in the following table:


Table 9.2
Family characteristic Net equity in business as a percentage of all assets
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
All families 17.5 -2.1
Percentile of income
Less than 20 19.5 .7
20-39.9 7.6 3.3
40-59.9 7.3 -1.8
60-79.9 7.9 1.1
80-89.9 8.1 -3.3
90-100 24.6 -3.4

The median holding of business equity for those having any such equity declined 18.5 percent, while the mean decreased 20.5 percent. The mean value in 2010 is 4.1 percent above its level in 2004, and the median is 8.8 percent lower than it was in 2004 (data not shown in the tables). In general, median business equity increases across income, age, and net worth groups, and the medians for white non-Hispanic families and homeowners are substantially higher than for the complementary groups. Over the recent three-year period, large increases in median net equity in businesses were observed in the second, third, and fifth income quintiles; the bottom wealth quartile; and the South Region. There were large declines in median holdings for families in the lowest income quintile and in the West and Northeast Regions.

The SCF classifies privately owned business interests into those in which the family has an active management role and those in which it does not. Of families having any business interests in 2010, 94.0 percent had an active role, and 10.1 percent had a non-active role; 4.1 percent had interests of both types (data not shown in the tables). In terms of assets, actively managed interests accounted for 87.5 percent of total privately owned business interests. The median number of actively managed businesses was 1. The businesses reported in the survey were a mixture of very small businesses with moderate values and businesses with substantially greater values.

The SCF attempts to collect information about items owned or owed by a family's business interests separately from items owned or owed directly by the family. But, in practice, the balance sheet of a business that is actively managed by a family is not always separate from that of the family itself.40 Families often use personal assets as collateral or guarantees for loans for the businesses, or they loan personal funds to their businesses. In 2010, 18.2 percent of families with actively managed businesses reported using personal assets as collateral, which is up slightly from 17.8 percent in 2007; at the same time, 15.2 percent of families reported lending the business money, which is down from 17.5 percent in 2007 (data not shown in the tables).

Families with more than one actively managed business are asked to report which business is most important; that business is designated as the primary one.41 In 2010, the vast majority of primary businesses operated in an industry other than manufacturing; the most common organizational form of those businesses was sole proprietorship, and the median number of employees was 2. However, primary actively managed businesses with more than two employees accounted for 79.5 percent of the value of all such businesses, and the largest shares of value were attributable to businesses organized as subchapter S corporations or limited liability companies, each of which accounted for approximately 30 percent. These patterns are also typical of those observed in the earlier surveys (data not shown in the tables).

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Other Nonfinancial Assets

In 2010, ownership of the remaining nonfinancial assets (tangible items including substantial holdings of artwork, jewelry, precious metals, antiques, hobby equipment, and collectibles) was not very widespread and decreased marginally compared with the level in the previous survey period, to 7.0 percent. Among other nonfinancial assets, the most commonly held items are antiques and other collectibles, which were reported by only 3.0 percent of families in 2010. The composition of other nonfinancial assets changed little from 2007 to 2010, as shown in the following table:


Table 9.3
Type of other nonfinancial asset All families
2010 (percent) Change, 2007-10 (percentage points)
Gold, silver, or jewelry 2.3 .2
Antiques, collectibles 3.0 -.5
Art objects 1.6 -.2
Other 1.4 .5

Groups most likely to hold other nonfinancial assets generally include families in the top two deciles of the income distribution, families headed by a college graduate, homeowners, and families in the top quartile of the net worth distribution. Minor changes in holdings were evident across all of the demographic groups. For families having such assets, the median value rose 2.0 percent over the recent period, and the mean fell 21.4 percent. Across income and wealth categories, median holdings generally fell for families in middle and top groups.

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Unrealized Capital Gains

Changes in the values of assets such as stock, real estate, and businesses that families own are often a key determinant of changes in their net worth. Unrealized gains are net changes in the value of assets that are yet to be sold; such "gains" may be positive or negative. To obtain information on this part of net worth, the survey asks about changes in value from the time of purchase for certain key assets--publicly traded stocks, pooled investment funds, the primary residence, and other real estate. In addition, it asks about the tax cost basis of any business holdings, and this figure, along with the current value, may be used as a credible indicator of unrealized gains.42 Among families with any unrealized capital gain, the median value of that gain fell 52.7 percent over the 2007-10 period, and the mean fell 39.1 percent (table 10). These declines pushed unrealized capital gains as a share of total family assets down to 24.5 percent, well below the peak of 36.1 percent observed in 2007. The decrease in median and mean unrealized gains was universal across the types of families and assets considered here. The median of unrealized gains on real estate fell 50.5 percent, the median on business assets declined 23.7 percent, and the median of unrealized gains on the financial assets covered in this measure fell 91.9 percent, to $300 in 2010; the mean of unrealized gains in real estate fell 40.6 percent, the mean on business assets declined 33.2 percent, and the mean of unrealized gains on financial assets fell 52.9 percent.


Table 10. Family holdings of unrealized capital gains on selected assets as a share of total assets, by selected characteristics of families, 2001-10 surveys
Percent except as noted
Family characteristic 2001 2004 2007 2010
Real estate Business Financial All Real estate Business Financial All Real estate Business Financial All Real estate Business Financial All
All families 15.4 11.6 2.3 29.3 19.3 10.9 1.1 31.2 19.3 14.2 2.6 36.1 12.8 10.6 1.1 24.5
Percentile of income
Less than 20 26.7 2.0 -.1 28.6 29.4 7.7 -.6 36.5 30.6 10.6 1.4 42.7 22.8 8.5 .3 31.6
20-39.9 27.2 3.9 -.3 30.9 28.8 5.9 .3 35.0 31.6 3.2 .3 35.1 23.7 4.3 -.2 27.8
40-59.9 18.9 3.9 .2 22.9 25.9 3.0 .5 29.4 24.7 5.6 .8 31.1 18.5 3.8 .2 22.4
60-79.9 17.3 5.2 1.7 24.3 23.4 4.0 .5 27.9 23.4 3.8 1.6 28.9 14.2 3.8 17.9
80-89.9 15.9 7.8 1.8 25.5 19.7 4.4 .8 24.9 23.9 8.8 .9 33.6 13.8 4.9 -.2 18.5
90-100 12.3 16.9 3.3 32.5 15.1 16.6 1.6 33.2 14.5 20.8 3.9 39.1 9.3 15.6 2.1 27.0
Age of head (years)
Less than 35 8.2 10.7 2.1 20.9 13.4 7.5 -.4 20.4 12.6 14.6 1.0 28.2 2.6 9.6 -1.3 10.9
35-44 12.7 14.8 .2 27.7 16.8 11.9 1.4 30.2 16.2 12.3 .4 29.0 5.9 9.4 .6 15.8
45-54 13.1 12.6 2.0 27.7 16.6 13.4 1.1 31.1 18.6 15.5 2.1 36.2 9.7 13.7 1.0 24.5
55-64 14.8 12.4 2.0 29.2 19.8 11.8 31.5 18.0 15.3 3.2 36.5 13.3 10.8 1.4 25.5
65-74 21.2 10.3 3.5 35.0 22.0 8.8 2.1 32.9 21.1 13.8 4.0 38.8 15.2 10.3 .8 26.3
75 or more 21.9 5.1 5.2 32.2 27.5 5.5 2.4 35.3 29.6 11.0 4.1 44.7 23.8 6.0 2.6 32.5
MEMO
Percent of families with any such gains 67.2 11.6 27.6 72.1 68.8 11.1 25.1 73.0 69.0 11.5 21.7 72.4 66.7 11.3 17.3 70.2
Median for those with any such gains 47.3 62.5 .6 49.0 63.9 51.8 .8 62.1 74.4 52.4 3.7 78.6 36.8 40.0 .3 37.2
Mean for those with any such gains 126.9 555.7 46.0 224.9 170.4 594.7 25.4 259.7 192.4 843.5 83.1 342.8 114.3 563.8 39.1 208.7

Note: See note to table 1.

† Less than 0.05 percent.

Some families saw losses on the value of their assets sufficient to eliminate any prior gains. Among all families in 2010, 15.1 percent reported a net loss on their primary residence or other real estate, meaning the value they reported for the property in 2010 was below what they reported having paid for it, regardless of when they made the purchase. That rate is nearly triple the 5.5 percent of families reporting a capital loss on their primary residence in 2007 and more than triple the 4.3 percent of families in 2004 (data not shown in the tables).

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Liabilities

The composition of family debt shifted between 2007 and 2010. Debt secured by a primary residence remained the largest component of overall family debt, but its share slipped 0.6 percentage point between the most recent surveys (table 11).43 This decline in mortgage debt was reinforced by a 0.3 percentage point decrease in the fraction of debt secured by residential property other than the primary residence. The share of outstanding credit card balances also decreased 0.6 percentage point over the three-year period. Offsetting these relative declines in mortgage and credit card debt were increases in the share of liabilities accounted for by nonmortgage lines of credit and other installment loans.


Table 11. Amount of debt of all families, distributed by type of debt, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Type of debt 2001 2004 2007 2010
Secured by residential property
Primary residence 75.2 75.2 74.7 74.1
Other 6.2 8.5 10.1 9.8
Lines of credit not secured by residential property .5 .7 .4 1.0
Installment loans 12.3 11.0 10.2 11.1
Credit card balances 3.4 3.0 3.5 2.9
Other 2.3 1.6 1.1 1.1
Total 100 100 100 100

Note: See note to table 1.

The overall value of families' liabilities decreased between 2007 and 2010, but the rate of decline was less than the corresponding rate for families' assets. Accordingly, the ratio of the sum of the debt of all families to the sum of their assets--the leverage ratio--rose from 14.8 percent in 2007 to 16.4 percent in 2010 (table 12). The leverage ratio for the subset of families that had any debt rose at a faster pace, from 19.4 percent in 2007 to 22.0 percent in 2010 (data not shown in the tables).

The overall leverage ratio differs considerably across types of family groups. It rises and then falls across income groups. By comparison, the ratio declines with age, a result consistent with the expected life-cycle patterns of asset and debt accumulation. These general patterns in the leverage ratios among groups hold across survey years, and the proportional increase in leverage ratios in the most recent period was fairly uniform across income and age groups.

Holdings of Debt

The share of families with any type of debt decreased 2.1 percentage points to 74.9 percent over the 2007-10 period (first half of tables 13.A and 13.B, last column), reversing an increase that had taken place since 2001. In any given survey year, borrowing is less prevalent among childless single families headed by a person aged 55 or older and families headed by a person who is retired or is aged 75 or older. Families in the lowest income, wealth, and education groups--which tend to have fewer economic resources--are also less likely to have any debt. Across income groups, borrowing rates peak among families above the median. By net worth group, debt ownership also peaks among families in the third quartile. Families in the highest three income groups, couples with children, and families headed by a person employed in a managerial or professional position have comparatively high rates of debt ownership.

With few exceptions, the fraction of families with any debt fell broadly across demographic groups. By age groups, debt ownership fell for those in the less than 35, 45-to-54, and 55-to-64 age groups but rose for the 75-or-older group. Debt ownership fell for most income groups, but the lowest quintile saw an increase of 0.8 percentage point. Similarly, debt ownership rose 0.4 percentage point for the lowest wealth quartile. The percentage of families with debt decreased just 0.9 percentage point for white non-Hispanic families but fell 4.7 percentage points for nonwhite or Hispanic families. Families headed by a self-employed person saw a decrease in debt ownership of 4.8 percentage points, whereas the fraction fell more modestly or increased among families in the complementary work-status categories.

Table 12. Leverage ratio of group by selected family characteristics, 2001-10 surveys
Percent
Family characteristic 2001 2004 2007 2010
All families 12.0 15.0 14.8 16.4
Percentile of income
Less than 20 13.5 15.1 13.5 18.3
20-39.9 14.5 19.4 18.6 21.4