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Key Points

  • In 2018, the average income for the highest 20% of families was 3.3 times as high as that for the middle 20% ($261,760 vs. $78,970 in 2018 dollars). It was 2.6 times as high in 1988 ($173,830 vs. $65,970).

  • In 2018, the average income for the middle 20% of families was 3.9 times as high as that for the lowest 20% ($78,970 vs. $20,380). It was 3.6 times as high in 1988 ($65,970 vs. $18,200).

  • In 2018, median family income of families headed by individuals ages 45 to 54—the age bracket of most parents of traditional age college students—was 27% higher than the overall median ($100,180 compared with $78,650).

  • In 2018, median incomes of black and Hispanic families were 59% and 62%, respectively, of the median for white families. The median income of Asian families was 13% higher than the median for white families.

  • In 2018, the $121,060 median family income of families headed by a four-year college graduate was more than twice the median for families headed by a high school graduate.

Figure 20A: Percentage Change in Inflation-Adjusted Mean Family Income by Quintile, 1988 to 1998, 1998 to 2008, and 2008 to 2018

Figure 20B: Median Family Income by Selected Characteristics, 2018

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Table F-1, Table F-3, Table F-5, and FINC-01; calculations by the authors.

Also Important

  • The share of all income going to the 20% of families with the lowest incomes has steadily declined, from 4.6% in 1988 to 4.2% in 1998, to 4.0% in 2008, and to 3.8% in 2018. The share of income going to the top 5% of families rose from 17.2% in 1988 to 20.7% in 1998. It was 20.5% in 2008 and 21.6% in 2018. (U.S. Census Bureau, Table F-2)
  • Average published tuition and fees for in-state students attending public four-year colleges rose by $6,870 (in 2018 dollars) over this 30-year period—53% of the increase in income ($13,000) of the middle 20% of families and 8% of the increase in income ($87,930) of the 20% of families with the highest incomes. (Online Table 2; calculations by the authors)