The Racial Wealth Gap in America: Asset Types Held by Race
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The Racial Wealth Gap in America: Asset Types Held by Race

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Racial Wealth Gap

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The Racial Wealth Gap

People of color have faced economic inequality for generations, and the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests has renewed discussions on these disparities.

Compared to White families, other races have lower levels of income and net worth. They are also less likely to hold assets of any type. In fact, 19% of Black families have zero or negative net worth, while only 9% of White households have no wealth.

Today’s chart uses data from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances to highlight the racial wealth gap, and the proportion of households that own different kinds of assets by racial group.

Asset Types Held By Race

The financial profile between racial groups varies widely. Below is the percentage of U.S. families with each type of asset, according to the most recent survey from 2016.

 WhiteBlackHispanicOther
Primary Residence73%45%46%54%
Vehicle90%73%80%80%
Retirement Accounts60%34%30%48%
Family-owned Business Equity15%7%6%13%
Publicly-traded Stocks61%31%28%47%

Vehicles are the most common asset across all racial groups, followed by a primary residence.

However, the level of equity—or home value less debts—families have in their houses differs by race. White families have equity of $215,800, whereas Black and Hispanic households have net housing wealth of $94,400 and $129,800 respectively.

In addition, White households are more likely to hold financial assets such as retirement accounts, family businesses, and stocks. These assets are instrumental in building wealth, and are prominent in the wealth composition of America’s richest families.

With fewer people of color holding these assets, they miss out on higher average returns than low-risk assets, as well as the power of compound interest. These portfolio differences are striking, but they are not the most important contributing factor in the racial wealth gap.

Demographic and Economic Variations

White households are also more likely to have demographic characteristics that are associated with wealth. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, they are:

  • Older, with more than half of households age 55 and up
  • More highly educated, with 51% having some type of degree
  • Less likely to have a single parent
  • More likely to have received an inheritance

For example, 39% of White heads of households have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 23% and 17% for Black and Hispanic household heads, respectively. However, education doesn’t fully explain the wealth inequities.

Racial Wealth Gap by Education

Enormous wealth disparities exist between families with the same education level. Even in cases where Black and Hispanic household heads have obtained a bachelor’s degree, their families’ median wealth of $68,000 and $78,000 respectively is still lower than the $98,000 median wealth for White families where the head has no bachelor’s degree.

After accounting for demographic factors, researchers still found there were considerable inequities. What, then, could be primarily responsible for the racial wealth gap?

The Income Gap

While previous research found that the wealth gap is “too big” to be explained by a difference in income, a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland offers a new perspective. Focusing on White and Black U.S. households only, researchers analyzed the dynamics of wealth accumulation over time, as opposed to previous studies that considered short time periods.

They found that income inequality was the primary contributor to the racial wealth gap. According to the model, if Black and White households had earned the same labor income from 1962 onwards, the Black-to-White wealth ratio would have reached 0.9 by 2007.

Moving forward, the study concludes that policy changes will likely have a positive impact if they address issues contributing to income gaps. This includes reducing racial discrimination in the labor market, and creating programs, such as mentorships, that improve environments for specific racial subgroups.

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Mapped: GDP per Capita Worldwide

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s standard of living. This map showcases the GDP per capita in every country globally.

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gdp per capita

Mapped: Visualizing GDP per Capita Worldwide

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

GDP per capita has steadily risen globally over time, and in tandem, the standard of living worldwide has increased immensely.

This map using data from the IMF shows the GDP per capita (nominal) of nearly every country and territory in the world.

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s wealth as it provides an understanding of how each country’s citizens live on average, showing a representation of the quantity of goods and services created per person.

The Standard of Living Over Time

Looking at history, our standard of living has increased drastically. According to Our World in Data, from 1820 to 2018, the average global GDP per capita increased by almost 15x.

Literacy rates, access to vaccines, and basic education have also improved our quality of life, while things like child mortality rates and poverty have all decreased.

For example, in 1990, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty, which was 36% of the world’s population at the time. Over the last 30 years, the number has been steadily decreasing — by 2030, an estimated 479 million people will be living in extreme poverty, which according to UN population estimates, will represent only 6% of the population.

That said, economic inequality between different regions is still prevalent. In fact, the richest country today (in terms of nominal GDP per capita), Luxembourg, is over 471x more wealthy than the poorest, Burundi.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2021:

gdp per capita top 10 countries

However, not all citizens in Luxembourg are extremely wealthy. In fact:

  • 29% of people spend over 40% of their income on housing costs
  • 31% would be at risk of falling into poverty if they had to forgo 3 months of income

The cost of living is expensive in Luxembourg — but the standard of living in terms of goods and services produced is the highest in the world. Additionally, only 4% of the population reports low life satisfaction.

Emerging Economies and Developing Countries

Although we have never lived in a more prosperous period, and poverty rates have been declining overall, this year global extreme poverty rose for the first time in over two decades.

About 120 million additional people are living in poverty as a result of the pandemic, with the total expected to rise to about 150 million by the end of 2021.

Many of the poorest countries in the world are also considered Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the UN. In these countries, more than 75% of the population live below the poverty line.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita:

gdp per capita bottom 10 countries

Life in these countries offers a stark contrast compared to the top 10. Here’s a glance at the quality of life in the poorest country, Burundi:

  • 80% of the population works in agriculture
  • 1 in 3 Burundians are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
  • Average households spend up to two-thirds of their income on food

However, many of the world’s poorest countries can also be classified as emerging markets with immense economic potential in the future.

In fact, China has seen the opportunity in emerging economies. Their confidence in these regions is best exemplified in the Belt and Road initiative which has funneled massive investments into infrastructure projects across multiple African countries.

Continually Raising the Bar

Prosperity is a very recent reality only characterizing the last couple hundred years. In pre-modern societies, the average person was living in conditions that would be considered extreme poverty by today’s standards.

Overall, the standard of living for everyone today is immensely improved compared to even recent history, and some countries will be experiencing rapid economic growth in the future.

GDP per Capita in 2021: Full Dataset

CountryGDP per Capita (Nominal, 2021, USD)
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$125,923
🇮🇪 Ireland$90,478
🇨🇭 Switzerland$90,358
🇳🇴 Norway$76,408
🇺🇸 United States$66,144
🇩🇰 Denmark$63,645
🇸🇬 Singapore$62,113
🇮🇸 Iceland$58,371
🇳🇱 Netherlands$58,029
🇸🇪 Sweden$57,660
Australia$57,211
Qatar$55,417
Austria$54,820
Finland$54,817
Germany$51,967
Belgium$50,051
Macao SAR$48,207
Hong Kong SAR$47,990
Canada$45,871
France$44,770
San Marino$44,676
Israel$43,439
United Kingdom$42,236
New Zealand$41,793
Japan$40,733
Italy$35,062
United Arab Emirates$32,686
South Korea$32,305
Malta$32,099
The Bahamas$31,532
Puerto Rico$31,207
Spain$31,178
Europe$31,022
Cyprus$29,686
Taiwan $28,890
Slovenia$28,734
Estonia$26,378
Brunei $26,274
Czech Republic$25,991
Portugal$25,097
Bahrain$23,710
Kuwait$23,138
Lithuania$22,752
Aruba$22,710
Slovakia$21,606
Saudi Arabia$20,742
Greece$20,521
Latvia$19,934
Hungary$17,645
Barbados$17,472
Poland$16,740
Trinidad and Tobago$16,622
Saint Kitts and Nevis$16,491
Croatia$16,402
Uruguay$16,297
Romania$14,916
Antigua and Barbuda$14,748
Oman$14,675
Panama$14,390
Chile$14,209
Maldives$14,194
Palau$13,180
Seychelles$12,648
Costa Rica$11,805
China$11,713
Malaysia$11,378
Bulgaria$11,349
Russia$10,793
Saint Lucia$10,636
Grenada$10,211
Guyana$9,913
Nauru$9,865
Mauritius$9,630
Kazakhstan$9,454
Montenegro$9,152
Argentina$9,095
Turkmenistan$8,874
Serbia$8,444
Mexico$8,403
Dominica$8,111
Equatorial Guinea$8,000
Gabon$7,785
Dominican Republic$7,740
Thailand$7,675
Iran$7,668
Turkey$7,659
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines$7,401
Botswana$7,036
North Macedonia $6,933
Brazil$6,728
Bosnia and Herzegovina$6,536
Belarus$6,513
Peru$6,229
Jamaica$5,643
Ecuador$5,589
Colombia$5,457
South Africa$5,236
Paraguay$5,207
Albania$5,161
Tonga$4,949
Suriname$4,921
Fiji$4,822
Iraq$4,767
Kosovo$4,753
Libya$4,733
Georgia$4,714
Moldova$4,527
Armenia$4,427
Namibia$4,412
Azerbaijan$4,404
Guatemala$4,385
Jordan$4,347
Tuvalu$4,296
Indonesia$4,287
Mongolia$4,139
Marshall Islands$4,092
Samoa$4,053
El Salvador$4,023
Micronesia$3,995
Belize$3,968
Sri Lanka$3,928
Vietnam$3,759
Eswatini$3,697
Cabo Verde$3,675
Bolivia$3,618
Ukraine$3,615
Egypt$3,606
Philippines$3,602
North Africa$3,560
Algeria$3,449
Bhutan$3,447
Morocco$3,409
Tunisia$3,380
Djibouti$3,275
West Bank and Gaza$3,060
Vanuatu$2,967
Laos$2,614
Papua New Guinea$2,596
Honduras$2,593
Côte d'Ivoire$2,571
Solomon Islands$2,501
Ghana$2,300
Republic of Congo$2,271
Nigeria$2,209
São Tomé and Príncipe$2,133
Angola$2,130
Kenya$2,122
India$2,031
Bangladesh$1,990
Uzbekistan$1,836
Nicaragua$1,828
Kiribati$1,817
Mauritania$1,782
Cambodia$1,680
Cameroon$1,657
Senegal$1,629
Venezuela$1,586
Myanmar$1,441
Comoros$1,431
Benin$1,400
Timor-Leste$1,273
Kyrgyzstan$1,270
Nepal$1,166
Tanzania$1,132
Guinea$1,067
Lesotho$1,018
Zambia$1,006
Mali$992
Uganda$971
Ethiopia$918
Tajikistan$851
Burkina Faso$851
Guinea-Bissau$844
Rwanda$820
The Gambia$809
Togo$759
Sudan$714
Chad$710
Haiti$698
Liberia$646
Eritrea$632
Yemen$573
Niger$567
Madagascar$554
Central African Republic$522
Zimbabwe$516
Afghanistan$506
Democratic Republic of the Congo$478
Sierra Leone$471
Mozambique$431
Malawi$397
South Sudan$323
Burundi$267

Editor’s note: Readers have rightly pointed out that Monaco is one of the world’s richest countries in GDP per capita (nominal) terms. This is true, but the IMF dataset excludes Monaco and lists it as “No data” each year. As a result, it is excluded from the visualization(s) above.

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Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Learn the stories behind some of the world’s biggest Ponzi schemes in this illustrative infographic timeline.

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The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Some things simply sound too good to be true, but when money is involved, our judgement can become clouded.

This is often the case with Ponzi schemes, a type of financial fraud that lures investors by promising abnormally high returns. Money brought in by new members is used to pay the scheme’s founders, as well as its earlier investors.

The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian who became infamous in the 1920s for claiming he could double his clients’ money within 90 days. Since then, numerous Ponzi schemes have been orchestrated around the globe.

To help you learn more about these sophisticated crimes, this infographic examines some of the biggest Ponzi schemes in modern history.

Ponzi Schemes in the 20th Century

The 1990s saw a number of large Ponzi schemes worth upwards of $500 million.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
Belgium1991Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem$860M
Romania1994Caritas, Ioan Stoica$1B - $5B
Russia1994MMM, Sergei Mavrodi$10B
U.S.1997Great Ministries International, Geral Payne$500M

In many cases, these schemes thrived by taking advantage of the unsuspecting public who often lacked any knowledge of investing. Caritas, for example, was a Ponzi scheme based in Romania that marketed itself as a “self-help game” for the poor.

The scheme was initially very successful, tricking millions of people into making deposits by offering the chance to earn an 800% return after three months. This was not sustainable, and Caritas was eventually unable to distribute further winnings.

Caritas operated for only two years, but its “success” was undeniable. In 1993, it was estimated that a third of the country’s money was circulating through the scheme.

Ponzi Schemes in the 21st Century

The American public has fallen victim to numerous multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes since the beginning of the 21st century.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
U.S.2003Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger$1B
U.S.2003Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters$4B
U.S.2008Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff$65B
U.S.2012Stanford Financial Group, Allen Stanford$7B

Many of these schemes have made major headlines, but much less is said about the thousands of everyday Americans that were left in financial ruin.

For victims of the Madoff Investment Scandal, receiving any form of compensation has been a drawn-out process. In 2018, 10 years after the scheme was uncovered, a court-appointed trustee managed to recover $13 billion by liquidating Madoff’s firm and personal assets.

As NPR reported, investors may recover up to 60 to 70 percent of their initial investment only. For victims who had to delay retirement or drastically alter their lifestyles, this compensation likely provides little solace.

Do the Crime, Pay the Time

Running a Ponzi scheme is likely to land you in jail for a long time, at least in the U.S.

In 2009, for example, 71-year-old Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s 135 years longer than the average U.S. murder conviction.

Outside of the U.S., it’s a much different story. Weaker regulation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries, means a number of schemes are ongoing today.

Sergei Mavrodi, known for running the Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, started a new organization named MMM Global after being released from prison in 2011. Although he died in March 2018, his self-described “social financial network” has established a base in several Southeast Asian and African countries.

If you or someone you know is worried about falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, this checklist from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be a useful resource.

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