November 7, 2011
In 2009, the median net worth (all assets minus all debts) of households headed by an adult ages 65 or older was 42% more than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984. By contrast, the net worth of a typical household headed by an adult under the age of 35 in 2009 was 68% less than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984.
People generally accumulate wealth as they age, so it is not unusual to find large age-based gaps on this measure. However, the current gap is unprecedented. In 1984, the age-based wealth gap had been 10:1. By 2009, it had ballooned to 47:1.
These age-based gaps widened significantly during the sour economy of recent years, but all key trends are several decades old, indicating that they are also linked to long-term demographic, social and economic changes that have affected different age groups in different ways. These changes include structural changes in the labor and housing markets; delayed marriage; delayed retirement; and the changing racial and ethnic composition of the population.