NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Great Expectations

October 20, 1999

Present and future generations of Americans stand to inherit a great deal more money than previously thought, according to a new study from Boston College.

  • Prior research had indicated that $10.4 trillion would be passed along to generations over a half century -- and that estimate had been widely accepted.
  • But Boston researcher Paul G. Schervish says the figure will be anywhere from $41 trillion to $136 trillion through 2055.
  • Moreover, between now and 2055, charities will enter a golden age in which they collect from $16 trillion to $53 trillion in bequests in 1998 dollars -- assuming that the estate tax remains unchanged.
  • The latest analysis covers all Americans who were at least age 18 in 1998.

The study's low estimate that $41 trillion would be transferred assumes that the value of all assets, adjusted for inflation, increases at 2 percent annually, while the high estimate assumes 4 percent annual real growth.

Actual growth in wealth, adjusted for inflation, averaged 5.3 percent annually from 1950 to this year, according to New York University Prof. Edward N. Wolff.

Total U.S. wealth in 1998 has been estimated in the neighborhood of $29.1 trillion to $32 trillion.

Source: David Cay Johnston, "A Larger Legacy May Await Generations X, Y, and Z," New York Times, October 20, 1999.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues