What family an individual comes from explains about three-quarters of where they end up in the wealth distribution as adults. For African Americans, however, the impact of family background is substantially lower, at 37 percent.
Individuals are more likely to maintain wealth than to attain wealth, or more precisely, low-wealth children are unlikely to become high-wealth adults, while high-wealth children are very likely to be high-wealth adults. Looking at previous years’ data, less than 10 percent of children who grew up in families in the bottom wealth quartile, which had a maximal cut off of about $8,000 in 1984, reached high wealth levels by adulthood between 1999 and 2003 (when the top group’s minimal value was $82,501and the median was over $189,000). And over 55 percent of children who grew up in families in the top wealth quartile—over $155,000 of net worth back in 1984—held on to their high wealth levels by adulthood.
The strongest predictor of an adult’s relative wealth status is his or her income, which in turn is highly predicated on his or her parents’ income and wealth.
Wealthy white children are much more likely to become wealthy adults than wealthy African-American children: Over 55 percent of all white children raised by parents in the top wealth quartile hold onto the top wealth position as adults. This is contrasted to only the 37 percent of African-American children raised by parents in the top wealth quartile who hold onto the top wealth position as adults.