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Real Net Worth of Households in Germany Fell between 2003 and 2013

DIW Weekly Report 34 / 2015, S. 441-450

Markus M. Grabka, Christian Westermeier

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Studies indicating the development of household wealth in Germany are typically based on nominal values and do not take account of price rises and thus the actual purchasing power of those assets. DIW Berlin took inflation into account in a recent evaluation and concluded that the average net worth of households in Germany decreased in real terms by almost 15 percent from 2003 to 2013. This figure, based on the German Income and Expenditure Survey (Einkommens- und Verbrauchsstichprobe, EVS) of the Federal Statistical Office, is confirmed by data from the German Socio- Economic Panel (SOEP) study and shows that real assets declined by more than 11 percent between 2002 and 2012. In particular, the weak performance of the estimated fair value of owner-occupied real estate is likely to have contributed to this decline. In contrast to DIW Berlin’s findings, the national accounts system (Volkswirtschaftlichen Gesamtrechnungen, VGR) indicated an increase in real net worth of around 19 percent between 2003 and 2013. This discrepancy is likely due to the different valuation methods used. The development of wealth held by the most affluent individuals is not likely to be responsible for the decline in the overall volume of real assets: Although the EVS and SOEP samples do not provide any details concerning the development of wealth held by the most affluent individuals, because these are either not meaningful or did not appear in the surveys at all, an analysis of the fortunes asset-holders based on information provided by manager magazin suggests that between 2007 and 2012 their assets stagnated on average. The relevant factors for successful wealth accumulation are regular saving, capital gains, and, in particular, inheritances and gifts. In addition, net asset values held by private households rise considerably whenever debtors pay off their liabilities in accordance with contracts.

Markus M. Grabka

Board of Directors SOEP & Acting Division Head Knowledge Transfer in the German Socio-Economic Panel study Department

JEL-Classification: D31;I31
Keywords: Wealth in Germany, wealth mobility, wealth accumulation, SOEP
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