Race and Social Problems

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 19–29 | Cite as

How Measurement of Inequalities in Wealth by Race/Ethnicity Impacts Narrative and Policy: Investigating the Full Distribution

  • Laura SullivanEmail author
  • Tatjana Meschede


In recent decades, analysts and researchers have expanded understanding of economic security by adding wealth to traditional income measures of economic security, documenting substantial and growing inequalities in wealth in the USA that exceed notable income inequalities. Racial disparities in wealth have been well-documented and represent a major barrier to economic equality for communities of color. However, while the racial wealth gap is typically measured at the median due to the substantial skew of the wealth distribution, much remains unknown about racial disparities across the wealth distribution. This study aims to advance analytic discussions about measurement of racial wealth disparities examining recent trends in wealth by race/ethnicity using a more complete view of the wealth distribution. Using the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) from 2001 to 2013, results reveal that racial wealth disparities across the distribution are even more widespread than an examination of central tendencies alone can observe. Also, while all households experienced notable wealth declines in recent years during the Great Recession, African American and Latino households across the distribution of wealth were particularly affected. From 2007 to 2013, the 75th percentile of wealth for African Americans and Latinos fell by approximately 50%, while losses for whites at the third quartile were just 15%. Similar differences in impacts of the economic downturn are seen across the distribution. Examination of net worth trends over the period reveals that losses were disproportionally experienced by households of color across the wealth distribution.


Racial disparities Wealth Inequality Economic security 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Heller School for Social Policy and ManagementBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

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