Blog / Family Philanthropy

Rising Wealth Concentration

by Michael Moody
Rising Wealth Concentration
Drawing on our local, national, and international research, tool development, training, and data work, leaders from the Johnson Center have identified 11 key trends that will impact the work of both grantmakers or nonprofit leaders in the months and years to come. In this piece, we explore one of those trends in depth.

Download and read the full report, featuring all 11 trends, here.

Front cover of the “11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2017” reportThere has been a lot of buzz recently — for good reason — about the extraordinary and rapidly increasing wealth concentration in American society today. The dramatic numbers can be hard to wrap your head around. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans now own 75 percent of all the wealth in the country, while the wealthiest one percent own an astonishing 43 percent (Saez & Zucman, 2014). The 20 richest billionaires own more wealth than the bottom half of Americans combined (about 152 million people), and the richest 62 individuals in the world own more than the poorest half of the world’s population (about 3.6 billion people) (Collins & Hoxie, 2015; Hardoon, Fuentes-Nieva, & Ayele, 2016).

And this wealth gap is growing. Data from the annual Forbes lists shows that in 1987 there were 41 billionaires in the United States; thirty years later, in 2016, there were 540.

We know that much of modern philanthropy was originally developed during a previous “Gilded Age” of incredible wealth concentration. So what will our current Gilded Age mean for philanthropy?

At the Johnson Center, we expect it will mean an unprecedented amount of money flowing to charitable causes, and a big cohort of new donors with substantial assets but little prior experience or expertise in giving. So donor education efforts — like those offered by our Institute for Foundation and Donor Learning and by our two endowed chairs — will be vital.

Also, nonprofits need to engage these donors in effective ways, both to attract greater investments and to use those investments for maximal good. So nonprofit training and education will be just as important as donor education in the years to come if we want to ensure our modern-day Gilded Age donors have an impact on philanthropy comparable to the Carnegies and Rockefellers of old.


Collins, C. & Hoxie, J. (2015). Billionaire Bonanza Report: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us. Washington, DC: Institute for Policy Studies.

Hardoon, D., Fuentes-Nieva, R., & Ayele, S. (2016). An Economy for the 1%: How Privilege and Power in the Economy Drive Extreme Inequality and How This Can Be Stopped. Oxford, UK: Oxfam International. Oxfam Briefing Paper 210.

Saez, E. & Zucman, G. (2014). Wealth and Inequality in the United States Since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data. Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper 20625.