Not All Wealth Is Created Equal

13_04_pewunevenrecovery wealthThe Pew Research Center released an interesting study recently. They looked at the change in average net worth in the US during the economic recovery from 2009 to 2011 and found out that despite America’s households growing their net worth by 14% during this time, the vast majority of Americans actually saw declines to their wealth. This is because the lower 93% of all households actually saw a decrease to their net worth on average. But the remaining Americans, (the top 7%) saw their wealth grow by 28% during the same time, which pushed the national average up. This made for a very uneven recovery where the affluent became richer 🙂 while the lower 93% of Americans experienced negative gains 🙁

How can we take advantage of this information? Well the study points to the “different performance of financial asset and housing markets” as the largest contributor to the opposite trajectories of the rich compared to everyone else. Rich households have 65% of their wealth in stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts while their home only accounts for 17%. But the average household have just 33% of their wealth in the markets, while 50% comes from their home. We all know that between 2009 to 2011, the financial markets (stocks, bonds, etc) rebounded from the recession, however US housing prices remained flat to negative. So the solution is simple. We just need to diversify our assets and not have most of our wealth tied up in our homes.

I have used this strategy with my own finances and from experience I can say it has worked brilliantly so far 😀 After I bought my home in 2009 I invested in other assets and benefited from much of the stock market gains. Today I have about $50K equity in my home, $80K in stocks, and $40K in farmland. Below is a pie chart breakdown.

13_04_equity_allocationThis is why I’m not a fan of paying down the mortgage when interest rates are low. If we make extra payments to get out of debt then we deny ourselves the opportunity to properly diversify our investments. And diversification, as the study points out, was how the top 7% got wealthier. Some people may argue it’s risky to invest while still in debt, but they don’t realize that it’s also risky to aggresively pay down debt and not diversify (^_-)  How fast we pay down our mortgage does not affect the price appreciation or future market value of our home when we sell it some day. But the profits and returns on our other investments like stocks, commodities, and maybe even a second property in the future, does depend on whether we buy them now or later because of course the earlier we invest the better (゜∀゜)  Canadian stocks have unfortunately underperformed in the last couple of years 🙁 And it looks like real estate is starting to cool off too. But due to strong soft commodity demand the average Canadian farmland value appreciated by 15% in 2011, and 19% in 2012. That’s why diversification is so important.  By spreading our investment seeds broadly we are better positioned to capture the overall growth of our economy no matter what happens in the future 😉 Isn’t learning about investing so much fun? (=^_^=) We don’t even have to be in the top 7% or have a crazy high net worth to use the same financial strategies as the rich do 😀

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
My Financial Independence Journey

The bottom 93% not only have most of their wealth tied up in their house. But many of them cashed out their stock investments in the Recession and never got back into the market. If they had just resisted the urge to panic, they’d be doing a lot better than they did.

Frugal Guru
04/26/2013 2:54 pm

Very true! This is exactly it.

04/26/2013 4:03 am

I do not consider myself to be in Canadian top 7%, but our networth grew 25.5% during the same time period. But in 2008 we took a 13% hit in networth. In actual investment losses, it was 13%, which meant we needed to make back 15% to recover that loss first. Now a better view of what happened I look to my investable assests. In 2008 we booked a loss in investable asset value of 35.5%. Now I would provide recovery numbers, but unfortuantely an opportunity came up for a second property in 2009, so my numbers get a little skewed. Bottom line is it took 3.5 years for us to recover from the 2008 loss, not to mention the now slower crawl back to decent growth numbers. Numbers can always be manipulated to show what the presenter wants, so be careful what you read and full understand what is being presented… All that said, the more money you have, the easier it will be to achieve your financial goals, and the key to having more is using some amount of leverage early, diversifying and LOTS of research and a pinch of luck! For my family we have been achieving,… Read more »

04/26/2013 5:15 am

I agree about diversification. Not a fan of stocks but I have little money tied to my main house, a big part is real estate and land but that is income productive, unlike my residence.

04/26/2013 6:17 am

Couldn’t agree more! Diversification is the king of wealth building and sustainability. Much like you I plan to distribute my wealth far beyond investing in a personal residence.

John S @ Frugal Rules
04/26/2013 6:42 am

It was saddening to read that study, but it really does not surprise me one bit. Many are not in the market or are not adding to it like the top 7% are. Like you said, diversification is key.

Mrs PoP @ planting our pennies
04/26/2013 8:43 am

Our breakdown of RE vs equities is pretty similar to yours – though our RE is all residential, not farmland like yours. I hope that one continues to pay out some nice rent for you! =)

04/26/2013 8:43 am

I’m not in the 7%, but my net worth grew 100% during the period, it went from $100 to $200. I guess I’m doing better than everyone else.

Thank for the post, and made me feel better.

04/26/2013 8:44 am

I love how you talk about spreading your investment seeds broadly when almost a quarter of your net worth is in farm land. Seems the farm life is getting to you 😉 You do make a good argument for investing though over debt repayment though.

Alex Yang (@yyangalex)
04/27/2013 9:10 pm

im more in the Buffett camp on diversification. he’s said in the past that diversification is protection against ignorance, and it doesnt make a lot of sense if you know what you are doing. for example, it doesnt make much sense to diversify into fixed income asset class or Canadian real estate at this particular moment.

that being said, its not unwise to be humble and think about the case in which you could be wrong. most of us arent professionals, and even pros are wrong a lot of the times. i view diversification as a cost, or insurance. in other words, sometimes its worth paying for it, but sometimes it isnt

Financial Independence
04/28/2013 1:28 pm

I agree. Otherwise if people would really now what they were doing – invested in Apple and get out of it mid last year. However most of us do have day jobs not related to finance, so people not so much ignorant but rather cautious and conservative.

Financial Independence
04/27/2013 10:59 pm

Could it be that diversification was the outcome of their wealth, rather than way to it? If you have some extra money to invest, you will buy some stocks, rental place, farm land, etc..If you live paycheck to paycheck…could you actually diversify?

04/28/2013 10:27 am

I know we have too much tied into our condos right now. But we’re focused on building our portfolios for the next few years. Once my student loan is paid off, it should really start going fast. Maybe even sooner if I get a decent raise this summer 🙂

mochimac @ save. spend. splurge.

It has never made sense to me to buy too big of a house and to be house rich, but cash poor.


[…] But maybe all this market volatility is a good thing. The rich keep getting richer because the assets they own, like stocks and real estate, continue to grow in value. But this is a worrying signal because high […]

01/20/2015 8:46 pm

[…] many more options available than we can list here. Typically for beginning investors I recommend a diversified portfolio of index funds with low management fees.  . After we figure out where we want to start, […]


[…] Freedom Thirty Five Blog tells us not all wealth is created equal. […]