Personal Finance 

Median Net Worth by Age

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The Pew Research Center recently released a report in which they compared the median net worth of age groups in 1984 and 2009, adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars, using a variety of data sources, most of which come from the US Census.

If you saw the recent report by the Federal Reserve, released last week, that the median net worth of all households fell to $77,300, from $126,400 in 2007; this Pew Research Center report is using a different data set. The Fed uses their Survey of Consumer Finances whereas the Pew report looked at census data.

The most stark result was the fact that the median net worth of someone younger than 35 dropped from $11,521 to $3,662 (remember, these are all adjusted to 2010 dollars) while the median net worth of someone 65 and older jumped from $120,457 to $170,494. What’s even more amazing is the difference in the net worth ratios. Someone 65 and older in 1984 had a median net worth nearly 10.5 times that of someone younger than 35. In 2009, that ratio jumped to over 46.5!

Here were the changes to median net worth by age of householder:

Age Group 1984 2009 Change
All Groups $65,293 $71,635 +10%
< 35 $11,521 $3,662 -68%
35-44 $71,118 $39,601 -44%
45-54 $113,511 $101,651 -10%
55-64 $147,236 $162,062 +10%
65+ $120,457 $170,494 42%

They pointed to housing and the Great Recession as the main drivers of these trends, since housing prices collapsed a lot of net worth has been erased, and I suspect student loans are partly to blame as well. If you’re curious about these types of larger generational trends, the Pew report is extremely detailed and goes into much more than median net worth (and much deeper than my summary here).

For example, did you know that in 2009, 20% of households reported to have no positive net worth? That’s absolutely stunning.

It’s well worth reading if you have the time.

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “Median Net Worth by Age”

  1. mannymacho says:

    I don’t think it is that stunning that many households have no positive net worth, seeing that student loans and other types of debt are piled on in the young phases of life while earnings are still low. Until you can save enough additional out of your earnings to pay those back down, you are in negative territory.

  2. manlierthanmannymacho says:

    I don’t think I believe it

  3. Thad says:

    It doesnt surprise me at all to see younger people have their net worth fluctuate more (by percentage) than that of older people. I suspect that younger folks have, in general a more leveraged personal balance sheet, making their net worth more volatile in general. Older folks have a bigger asset pool, but probably also considerably less relative debt.

  4. Impatient says:

    This is bogus. According to, the average net worth of a 40-year-old is about $190k, which makes perfect sense to me.

  5. Joel says:

    I believe uses the data people put in. It could be inaccurate by people lying, and also the fact that the people who are concerned about their networths enough to see how they compare are more likely to be those that have bett than average networths. I do not like the age brackets on this site. Does less than 35 include babies and children? Does it only include people who are independent?

  6. Mr.H says:

    It might be true depending on when the research was done.Compare 2007 retirement plans and real estate prices to 2009 you will see vast changes.Normal low brackets start at 18 but does that include collage students?

  7. roy says:


    Likely difference is median vs. mean.

  8. Kevin S says:

    Average is going to be significantly higher than median because a few very rich people will have a huge influence on the average but none at all on the median. I doubt that the anonymous poster “Impatient” will be back to understand this error, but if you’re not familiar with stats here’s a quick example.

    Population A has 5 people with net worths of -$1, $0, $1, $4, and $6. The average of these is (-1+0+1+4+6)/5 = $2, but the median is just the net worth of the individual in the middle: $1. In this case the average is twice as much as the median.

    Now population B has 5 people with -$1, $0, $1, $4, and $106. So the only difference is one of the individuals has a lot more money. The average is now (-1+0+1+4+106)/5 = $22, which is 22 times the median, which is still $1. But note that most people in population B don’t have anywhere near as much as $22; the median seems much more like the net worth of a typical individual than the average does.

    Averages can be really misleading, which is probably why the Pew Research Center used medians.

    • Gary says:

      I was gonna reply to “impatient” but saw this.

      I am astonished as to how much of this country is illiterate in basic math such as not knowing the difference between mean and median.
      thats part of the problem why most people suck at finances coz they also suck at math

  9. SteveM says:

    With net worth it is not likely the average to be much more tha 1.5x the medium. With that 190k average for 40 year olds is not likely and would suggest stack me up has a survey bias.

    Why do they not discuss the increase in Ss taxes as the main reason? It is a direct transfer of wealth from the young to the old. 3% extra in taxes is about a 6800 for the average person without earnings by 35. Earnings probably
    Another 4500.

    Note: the actual tax increase is more Asa person 35in 1984 would have been earning some prior tomedicare and when theta was lower.

  10. ace carolla says:

    based on this article i’m doing quite well! wow, i needed that

  11. Prefer Anonymity says:

    I’ll tell you what — I truly hate any article that discusses net worth without specifying whether it includes equity in real property, or only financial assets. In this environment, the measuring stick MUST be spelled out clearly. Otherwise, we have no idea of what we’re talking about.

    Not only that, but median debt at each level (which has already been subtracted from net worth, but so what?), combining secured debt and unsecured debt and specifying this, should also be given. Keep in mind that the secured/unsecured dichotomy means less than it used to, at a time when student loan debt is huge and not dischargeable, while “homeowners” are still walking away from underwater mortgages.

    In short, give us some real numbers. And yes, median is far more meaningful than mean — for obvious reasons. It will be more and more informative (while mean will be more and more misleading) as the difference between the highest net worth individuals and the lowest keeps growing and growing and . . .

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