Wealth of Younger Americans Is Historically High

Due to a historic economic recovery, inflation-adjusted wealth for younger Americans has grown 49 percent since right before the pandemic—a positive trend following decades of stagnation.

Recent homebuyers move into their new condo.
Recent homebuyers move into their new condo in Oceanside, New York, on May 4, 2023. (Getty/Newsday RM/Thomas A. Ferrara)

The data increasingly show that younger Americans are the winners of the strong economic recovery coming out of the pandemic, experiencing low unemployment rates and rapid wage growth. These labor market gains have also helped drive historic wealth growth for younger Americans.

New Center for American Progress analysis confirms this is also true of wealth: Recent Federal Reserve data show that the average wealth of households under 40 was $259,000 in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2023, marking a 49 percent increase since the fourth quarter of 2019, even after adjusting for inflation. Importantly, these data likely reflect broad-based wealth growth among young people, as opposed to a small group of wealthy young people driving these gains. (see Appendix)

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No other age group has seen anywhere near this level of wealth accumulation during and after the pandemic. Looking specifically at millennial households—those born from 1981 to 1996—their inflation-adjusted wealth more than doubled during this period.

This column examines the latest data from the Federal Reserve and explains how younger households saw faster wealth gains during the pandemic than older household groups. Notably, these recent wealth gains for younger households are a stark departure from the past, as wealth for younger households had been essentially flat for decades before the pandemic.

Younger Americans have seen the strongest surge in inflation-adjusted wealth of any age group since the pandemic

Wealth—the value of a household’s assets, including stocks, bank accounts, and real estate, minus its liabilities, such as mortgages and student loan debt—is a critical measure of financial security. It provides support for households during financial emergencies, helps people start businesses, supports children’s education, and contributes to a secure retirement. This historically rapid wealth growth for younger households, therefore, provides an injection of financial security and upward economic mobility.

The Federal Reserve provides data on the average wealth of households by age of the household head through the fourth quarter of 2023. New CAP analysis of that data shows that the average inflation-adjusted wealth of households where the household head was under 40 grew $85,000, or 49 percent, between Q4 2019 and Q4 2023—from $174,000 to $259,000. As a point of comparison, the average for households of all ages was $1.1 million per household. Average inflation-adjusted wealth fell 7 percent for households ages 40 to 54; rose 4 percent for households ages 55 to 69; and increased by 15 percent among households 70 and older over the same period.

This surge comes after decades of stagnant wealth for younger Americans

Such rapid inflation-adjusted wealth growth for young households has never occurred before in the wealth data, which go back to 1989. Inflation-adjusted wealth for this group moved in a band of about $90,000 to $190,000 for 30 years. It fell from about $180,000 to $90,000 during the Great Recession, more than erasing wealth growth during the 1990s, then slowly recovered during the 2010s, before hitting the pre-pandemic level of $174,000 in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Yet household wealth for those under 40 years old exploded during the pandemic and reached a peak of about $280,000 in the first quarter of 2022. It has fallen slightly since then as a result of inflation and higher interest rates hitting investment portfolios. Nevertheless, it remains a staggering 49 percent above its pre-pandemic level today.

Gains in several assets and declines in debt propel younger Americans’ wealth

The increase in younger Americans’ wealth is broad-based, not concentrated in a single area—which could prompt concern that it is the result of a bubble or idiosyncratic trend. Breaking down the $85,000 increase in average wealth from Q4 2019 to Q4 2023 for households under 40 shows the following to be true:

  • Average housing wealth—house values minus mortgage debt—rose $22,000. The gain in house values is a combination of more young households owning a house and higher house prices. Importantly, the home ownership rate of households under 35 in 2023 (38.6 percent) was higher than in 2019 (36.7 percent). Even adjusting for the decline in the number of younger households still shows a higher homeownership rate than before the pandemic.
  • Liquid assets, such as bank deposits and money market mutual funds, grew $9,000. These gains partly reflect leftover savings from pandemic relief as well as people’s savings from stronger wages and more jobs.
  • The value of closely held businesses—such as a small business one person owns, as opposed to passive ownership of stock in a multinational corporation—rose $10,000. Many businesses became more valuable as the economy quickly recovered. But many households also started new businesses during that period. In fact, the business ownership rate of households under 35 was 11.3 percent in 2022—an all-time high and almost double the pre-pandemic level of 6.6 percent in 2019.
  • The value of financial assets, mainly stocks and mutual funds, rose $31,000. These gains reflect a persistently strong market, fueled by income-driven consumption and investment-driven innovation and profit gains.
  • Consumer durables such as cars and appliances contributed $7,000 to the overall gain in average wealth for young households. 
  • Nonhousing debt, such as credit card debt and student loans debt, fell $5,000. During this time, young households could more easily pay their expenses with higher incomes from more jobs and higher wages, reducing the need to go into debt.

Millennials have experienced wealth growth after a recession, unlike previous generations

Another way to conceptualize the historic rise in inflation-adjusted wealth is by comparing generational cohorts. In this case, the data follow the same group of people over time. Millennials are the closest generation to those under 40 years old in 2019. They were born from 1981 to 1996 and thus were 23 to 38 years old in 2019. Their wealth doubled, increasing by 101 percent, from the end of 2019 through the end of 2023. In part, such a substantial gain may not be surprising since younger households experience large wealth growth as they age. Yet this rapid wealth boost occurred during and after the COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession.

Earlier generations did not experience similar wealth gains during and after recessions when they were at a similar age. Generation X was 27 to 42 years old in 2007, when the Great Recession started. This group’s real wealth grew only 4 percent over the same four-year time period following the beginning of the Great Recession in Q4 2007. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers were 26 to 44 years old at the start of the recession in 1990 and saw their real wealth increase by 46 percent following that recession’s beginning in Q3 1990.

Millennials weathered the pandemic recession much better financially and with an improved financial security outlook than Gen X and the Baby Boomers did when they experienced recessions at similar ages.

The historically quick and strong economic recovery is the driver of wealth growth for younger Americans

A simple reason for the strong wealth growth is that younger Americans are experiencing an especially low unemployment rate and especially strong wage growth, making it easier for them to accumulate wealth. Real median inflation-adjusted wages for workers ages of 25 to 34 grew 2.9 percent between Q4 2019 and Q4 2024, compared with 2.1 percent for workers of all ages.


Federal Reserve data show that inflation-adjusted wealth for younger Americans has grown nearly 50 percent since right before the pandemic. This historic growth is without parallel in recent decades, indicating how the strong economy is paying off for young workers. Their households are enjoying strong income growth and more financial security for the future as a result of a uniquely strong and equitable economic recovery.

The authors would like to thank Sohyon Pak for her research assistance.

Appendix: Comparing average wealth growth and median wealth growth by age group

The Federal Reserve started releasing Distributional Financial Accounts data in 2019. This dataset allows, for the first time, analysis to measure the average wealth of different demographic groups with a less than three-month time lag. In contrast, the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) only collects data every three years and publishes the data with a one-year time lag. The most recent SCF data were released in the fall of 2023 and cover 2022.

A natural concern with the DFA data, however, is that they are averages, and averages with wealth can be misleading since a small number of wealthy households can drive changes in the average. The SCF, on the other hand, also measures median wealth, which is not affected by outliers. The SCF data show a similarly rapid rise in median wealth of younger households: Median inflation-adjusted wealth for households under 35 grew from $16,000 to $39,000—a 140 percent increase—from 2019 to 2022. Inflation-adjusted median wealth had barely grown between 1989 and 2019, moving around within a band of $13,000 to $23,000 over that period. This suggests that the strong wealth growth for younger Americans is broad-based and not the result of strong growth of a handful of wealthy younger households.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Brendan Duke

Senior Director, Economic Policy

Christian E. Weller

Senior Fellow


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