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First Quarter 2020, 
Vol. 102, No. 1
Posted 2020-01-17

The College Wealth Divide: Education and Inequality in America, 1956-2016

by Alina K. Bartscher, Moritz Kuhn, and Moritz Schularick

Using new long-run microdata, this article studies wealth and income trends of households with a college degree (college households) and without a college degree (noncollege households) in the United States since 1956. We document the emergence of a substantial college wealth premium since the 1980s, which is considerably larger than the college income premium. Over the past four decades, the wealth of college households has tripled. By contrast, the wealth of noncollege households has barely grown in real terms over the same period. Part of the rising wealth gap can be traced back to systematic portfolio differences between college and noncollege households that give rise to different exposures to asset price changes. Noncollege households have lower exposure to the equity market and have profited much less from the recent surge in the stock market. We also discuss the importance of financial literacy and business ownership for the increase in wealth inequality between college and noncollege households.