For instance, in 2010, the top 1 percent of income earners received 19.8 percent of total household income. In the same year, the wealthiest 1 percent held 35.4 percent of total household wealth (Kaplan 2013). Moreover, wealth inequality has increased in recent decades, with most gains concentrated among the richest 20 percent of households (Wolff 2013).

Researchers have studied wealth distribution in terms of its mathematical properties as well as its trend, finding that wealth inequality has increased over the years (Keister 2000, Wolff 2013, Kaplan and Rauh 2013). Looking at the Forbes 400, Klass et al. (2005) point to a general trend of increasing wealth inequality from 1988 to 2003.

This report updates the empirical findings in Klass by extending the Forbes 400 data to 2012, and finds that the trend of increasing inequality among the wealthiest Americans still holds. This report also expands the study by exploring whether that distribution has any bearing on overall U.S. wealth distribution. To do so, other data and measures of inequality are employed to assess the characteristics and trends of wealth distribution. This report also notes the time correspondence of changes in wealth inequality and economic developments involving technology.

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