The concept of the "one percent" has captured the American public's imagination in the last few years. The phrase crops up everywhere – from presidential debates to signs at protests.
But precise as the phrase seems, it's a murky term. Let's try to clear it up today: who are the top one percent by income and who are the top one percent by net worth in the United States?
$531,020 is the cutoff for a top 1% household income in the United States in 2020 (newest data at this point in 2021). For a single earner, the cutoff is $361,020.
The top 1% household income is not the final word, so pick your favorite. Households might have multiple people working – it is often more appropriate to break down the 1% for individual workers. (Or, even by state or city).
Let's look at some of the other ways to measure the top one percent by income.
Income of the Top 10% and Top 1% Household and Worker
You can find the original source (and methodology) in these posts:
- Individual Income Percentile Calculator
- Household Income Percentile Calculator
- Average, Median, and Top 1% Household Income
- Average, Median, and Top 1% Individual Income
Not enough? These next calculators and posts divide the population into even finer groups.
Since it isn't always appropriate to compare workers in different cities or workers of different ages, these posts will help answer your specific questions:
- Individual Income Percentile by Age Calculator
- Income Percentile by Age Research
- (Household and Individual) Income Percentile by City
- (Individual and Household) Income Percentile by State
The data in these tools and posts is from the 2020 Current Population Survey survey, which means income earned between January and December of 2019.
Who are the top one percent by net worth?
The top one percent of household net worth starts at $11,099,166.
(This net worth threshold is as of 2019, with a few surveys in 2020. See below.)
Net worth tends to have an even more extreme spread than income does. While many households in the United States have zero or negative net worth, the same statement isn't valid for income. Household income also reflects transfer payments, while the government isn't (really) in the business of transferring wealth.
Net Worth of the 10%, 1%, and .1% Households
Looking at the one percent by net worth is more useful than income. If we had our way, a view of the top 10%, 1%, and .1% would concentrate on accumulated wealth, not affluence.
This data comes from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances from the Federal Reserve. (This is the newest SCF data until likely 2023). We calculated these breakpoints for our American wealth and net worth percentiles article.
Clarity Around the Top 1%
As you can imagine, since there are a few ways to define the top 1% the topic inspires a number of questions. I've done my best to address the most common questions around the American top 1% here.
Does top one percent mean by income or by net worth?
Net worth is a better way to rank the top one percent than income.
If you do use income to determine the top one percent of individuals, individual income is the best choice for determining the one percent.
Household income disguises the true income figure when there are multiple earners in a household. For example, a household may have two working spouses or a child living at home. Household income also doesn't account for the spending difference in household sizes.
Using net worth to decide on the one percent threshold is even better.
Household net worth sidesteps spending and cost of living questions because net worth is by definition not spent. Regardless of household size or location, net worth is always unspent resources.
Net worth is the accurate measure of how much 'extra 'a household has accumulated. (Top one percent net worth households show up as a hockey stick in inequality, too.)
Is there a correlation between income and net worth?
There is some correlation between wealth and income, but it's not as high as you might suspect – and it changes by age. Wealth is truly the measure of the highest classes.
One interesting stat: going from the top 10% of wealth to the top 1% requires a significant jump while income "only" requires a much smaller bump.
How many people are in the top 1%?
Depending on your preference, there are roughly 1,286,744 households in the top one percent or 1,762,143 workers.
Are millionaires in the top 1%?
No. By net worth, millionaires are a bit more than the top 10% of net worth in America, but nowhere near the top 1%.
A household with $1,000,000 in net worth needs to approximately 11x their wealth to be in the top 1%.
See more data on millionaires in America.
At what point are you considered a millionaire?
Being a millionaire means you have accumulated one million dollars in net worth, it doesn't mean you earn one million dollars a year. For net worth, you sum all of your assets and subtract all of your debts to come up with a number of dollars you would have if you liquidated everything.
You should include your primary home in your net worth.
What percentage of wealth is held by the top 1%?
In the first quarter of 2021, the top 1% of households and nonprofit organizations held 32.1% of all net worth in the United States.
In the first quarter of 2021, the lower 50% of households and nonprofit organizations held 2.0% of all net worth in the United States.
What is the average and median net worth by age?
|Age||Average Net Worth||Median Net Worth|
You can find the methodology behind this data in the net worth by age calculator.