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Research Paper CASEpapers CASE/165

Mapping and measuring the distribution of household wealth: a cross-country analysis


Publication date

Nov 2012


In this paper we compare the level, composition and distribution of
household wealth in five industrial countries: the UK, US, Italy,
Finland and Sweden. We exploit the harmonized data within the Luxembourg
Wealth Study, which we have extended to allow us to examine trends in
the UK and the US between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Remaining
differences between surveys, variable definitions and coverage are
highlighted to the extent that they impact on cross-country comparisons.
We find that the Nordic countries have lower average wealth holdings,
smaller absolute gaps between low wealth and high wealth households but
high relative measures of wealth inequality. Italian households hold
very little debt and are much more likely to own their homes outright,
leading to relatively high median levels of wealth. In contrast American
households tend to hold much more housing debt well into retirement.
Increases in owner occupation and house prices 2000-05 in the UK has led
to substantial increases in wealth, particularly median wealth holdings
and this had led to falls in relative measures of wealth inequality
such as the Gini coefficient even though absolute gaps between high and
low wealth households have grown substantially. We show that there are
underlying country differences in terms of distributions of age,
household composition, educational attainment and income as well as
wealth and debt portfolios. Educational loans are increasing in their
size and prevalence in some countries and look set to create some marked
differences in the distribution of wealth for different age cohorts.


Households and Savings And Assets



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