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 Research Projects at the MPIfG

Forbes 400: The Super Rich in the United States

Jens Beckert, Philipp Korom, and Mark Lutter

While wealth ownership in the US has long been strongly concentrated in the hands of a small minority of the population, researchers have paid relatively little attention to the richest segment of the population. The super rich, however, are critical to understanding important aspects of inequality and social mobility. The Forbes 400 list has evolved into the prevailing image of wealth in the US since its launch in 1982. Every year it measures and presents the levels of wealth of the super rich. It is often perceived as a unique product of its time, capturing an era of unusual entrepreneurial vigor. In 1982, only 13 billionaires were on the list. In 2013, the threshold for being listed was set at 1.3 billion US dollars. Little is known about how this wealth is generated. Is it inherited or self-made? Which are the key wealth industries? Is wealth really based on meritocratic principles? This project examines the development of the Forbes 400 group over the past four decades. It aims to present an overview of transformations in the US economy by focusing on how the socio-demographic and economic structures of the super rich have developed. Project duration: October 2013 to July 2017.
Korom, Philipp, Mark Lutter, and Jens Beckert. 2015. "The Enduring Importance of Family Wealth: Evidence from the Forbes 400, 1982 to 2013." MPIfG Discussion Paper 15/8. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne.
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