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What The Data Says About Wealth Inequality

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wealth inequality data in America

The Briefing

  • Today, the top 1% of U.S. households own 31.2% of total wealth
  • Data going back over 200 years suggests that wealth inequality in both the U.S. and Europe reached its peak in the early 1900s

What The Data Says About Wealth Inequality

Wealth inequality has gone through peaks and troughs throughout history.

Most recently, in the decade between 2010 and 2020, the top 1% of U.S. households’ portion of wealth has gone from 28.6% to 31.2%.

However, when expressed in raw dollars, things begin to look different. Wealth during the same period for the 1% went from approximately $17.5 trillion to $35 trillion. Meanwhile, the total wealth pool rose from $60 trillion to $112 trillion.

In other words, all households by category have amassed wealth during the same period, albeit at different rates.

Household Wealth PercentileAnnual Growth in Wealth (CAGR)
Top 1%6.54%
90-99%5.75%
50-90%4.97%
Bottom 50%3.30%

Source: The Federal Reserve

Drivers Of Wealth Inequality

The longest bull market in history, which went from March 2009 to February 2020, has been a big driver for the recent divergence. The U.S. composition of wealth for the top 1% of households skews towards corporate equities and mutual funds, of which they collectively own $14 trillion. By contrast, the bottom 50% of households own $0.16 trillion.

It’s often said a stock market correction is long overdue. Since the top 1% of households clearly have the most skin in the game, if one were to transpire, wealth inequality would likely retract.

A Longer Term Look

Although the inequality of wealth is heavily discussed in today’s climate, the numbers have been higher before.

Wealth inequality, measured by the top 1% of U.S. households’ portion of wealth, was at its peak at the start of the 20th century. Back then, a harsh and more concrete class divide with lower rates of upward mobility were common themes.

2 centuries of wealth inequality

At its peak in 1910, the top 1% of U.S. households owned well over 40% of all wealth. Major world wars and the Great Depression seemed to be catalysts against this, and the years after WWII brought about some of the lowest levels of inequality seen in the modern era.

Wealth inequality has ebbed and flowed throughout history, but it has steadily crept back up in the last few decades. Today, its adverse effects continue to garner the attention of more people—including policy makers who are facing immense pressure to find a solution.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The Fed
Notes: This data covers Q2’2010-Q2’2020

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Datastream

How Does the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Invest Its Money?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funded by a trust that has a portfolio value of over $25 billion. Here’s how it invests its assets.

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Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Briefing

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust has a total portfolio value of over $25 billion
  • Almost half of the money is invested in Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company run by chairman and CEO Warren Buffett
  • The trust favors industrial stocks, with a 34% weighting in the sector

How Does the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Invest Its Money?

Bill and Melinda Gates have announced they are ending their marriage, but will continue to work together at their foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched in 2000, is the largest private philanthropic organization in the United States. It has spent over $50 billion on global public health over the last two decades, including $1.75 billion on COVID-19 relief.

Of course, the foundation’s assets are managed by a trust until they are ready to be distributed to grantees. Here’s a look at how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust invests its assets.

The Portfolio Breakdown

The trust has invested 100% of its holdings in stocks. It holds almost half of its value in Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company run by Warren Buffett.

StockValue% of Portfolio
Berkshire Hathaway$11.8B45.5%
Waste Management$2.6B10.0%
Caterpillar$2.6B10.0%
Canadian National Railway$1.9B7.2%
Walmart$1.6B6.4%
Crown Castle$1.0B3.9%
Ecolab$991M3.8%
UPS$960M3.7%
FedEx$921M3.6%
Schrodinger$518M2.0%
Coca-Cola FEMSA$294M1.1%
Grupo Televisa$213M0.8%
Liberty Global$156M0.6%
Apple$133M0.5%
Amazon$102M0.4%
Alphabet (Google)$102M0.4%
Twitter$15M0.1%
Liberty Latin America$14M0.1%

However, the portfolio is more diversified than initially meets the eye—Berkshire Hathaway itself is invested in almost 50 stocks.

Shrodinger, a healthcare-focused software company that makes up 2% of the trust’s total portfolio, was one of the best performing stocks of 2020 by price returns. The portfolio has also been boosted by delivery companies UPS and FedEx, both of which saw their share prices more than double over the last year as online shopping took off.

While the trust is dominated by U.S.-domiciled companies, a few foreign names do make the list. For example, Canadian National Railway makes up over 7% of the portfolio, while the Latin American bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA makes up just over 1%.

The Future of the Foundation

The trust continues to be managed by a team of outside investment managers, whose decisions have a critical impact on the amount of money the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has to fund its initiatives. For example, if Berkshire Hathaway were to dip 10%, this would drop the portfolio value by more than $1 billion.

In addition, the foundation is funded in part by the Gates’ personal donations—more than $36 billion from 1994 to 2018. Should Bill and Melinda go on to create their own separate philanthropic efforts post-divorce, the foundation may have a smaller portfolio to pull from going forward.

» Like this? Then you might also like The Warren Buffett Empire in One Giant Chart

Where does this data come from?

Source: SEC filings and MarketWatch
Notes: Portfolio holdings are as of December 31, 2020. Stock values are as of market close on May 3, 2021.

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Datastream

How Media Consumption Has Changed Over the Last Decade (2011-2021)

The media consumption landscape in 2021 is shifting. Time spent on media continues to spike, with mobile challenging for the top spot

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changing media consumption

The Briefing

  • Since 2011, media consumption for U.S. adults is up 20% across all categories
  • An average of 4 hours and 12 minutes is spent on mobile devices

Media Consumption in 2021

There are a wide array of apps and life hacks out there designed to help regulate personal internet use and media consumption, but the data suggests they haven’t been working. Today, we consume more media than at any point in time in the last decade.

This data from Recode looks at how many minutes U.S. adults spend on various forms of media, comparing mobile, desktop, radio, television, and magazines.

How Many Minutes are Spent on Media?

In 2021, collective media consumption continues its upward trajectory, and is set to be at the highest it’s ever been. In 2021, overall media consumption among U.S. adults is estimated to be around 666 minutes per day, or 11.1 hours—a 20.2% increase from 2011.

YearMobileDesktopRadioTelevisionMagazinesTotal
2021252509925312666
20202315010025813652
20192085110026414637
20181905210227015629
20171645310228217618
20161365310528718599
20151245610928919597
2014886711129820584
2013746711630621584
2012606812031423585
2011454013131424554

Although media consumption has grown overall, this is predominantly driven by mobile usage. In fact, every category with the exception of mobile has shrunk from their respective peaks. Mobile on the other hand, has grown a whopping 460% in 10 years, from an average daily use of 45 minutes to a staggering 252 minutes.

Consumption by Generation

Disparities in media consumption have a generational aspect that’s worth noting, as well. For instance, older Americans like Baby Boomers still consume media routinely through television. On the other hand, younger cohorts like Millennials and Gen Z tend to consume more through mobile.

Increasing internet use has come with criticism, and is said to be partially responsible for our waning attention spans. With only 1,440 minutes in a day, it remains unknown exactly how many minutes we will continue to direct towards mobile use. But with figures growing 9% last year, we may not have yet reached the peak.

Where does this data come from?

Source: Recode
Notes: 2021 figures are projections by Zenith Media

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