Billionaires’ Share of Economy Grows Ever Larger

Off the Charts: The Visual Says It All

Elon Musk Awarded with Axel Springer Award in Berlin.

Pool/Getty Images

Billionaires have increasingly dominated the U.S. economy, especially in the last few years, according to a chart comparing the wealth of the country’s 400 richest individuals to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) since the 1980s.

In fact, the wealth of the 400 richest people in America, as identified by Forbes, was equal to 19% of U.S. GDP as of May, compared to 14.1% in 2019, before the pandemic hit, and below 5% in the 1980s. That’s according to calculations by University of California, Berkeley, economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who published a paper on wealth inequality late last year and recently updated their findings with the latest figures.

The researchers found that however you measure it, the rich are getting richer at an incredible pace. Another statistic from their paper: In 1980, the top 1% of richest adults owned wealth equivalent to 60 years of average U.S. income. By 2020, that figure had ballooned to 200 years.

“By any metric, the period from 1980 to 2020 has been an era of extraordinary wealth accumulation among the rich in the United States,” the researchers  wrote.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Journal of Economic Perspectives. “The Rise of Income and Wealth Inequality in America: Evidence from Distributional Macroeconomic Accounts.”

Related Articles