Two centuries of change in personal wealth holding patterns: the United Kingdom vs. the United States

Kelley Osgood


The purpose of this study is to conduct a survey of the relative wealth holding patterns in the United Kingdom and the United States from 1776-1965. This study is limited to the consideration of only that wealth which is held in liquid financial assets including the components of M?, National Savings Bonds, other government securities, and Life Insurance and Annuity Funds. The wealth holding patterns in question are those changes in the type and proportional distribution of these financial assets that individuals (on the aggregate) have chosen to hold in their portfoIios over time. The central assumption for this study is that the two countries will exhibit similar distributional wealth holding patterns with respect to their non-financial prejudices. The central hypothesis is that differences which do emerge will be reflected in the composition of the financial assets portion of the individual's portfolio. These differences should reflect the unique local constraints on wealth holding such as, institutional regulations, governmental policies, and unique exogenous pressures on the system. This study will proceed by constructing a compatible series of data for the U.K. and the U.S. (There is no present source of this type to the author's knowledge.) These data will then be used to construct aggregate financial wealth portfolios. The study then identifies the chief differences in the interest bearing portions of the portfolio, between the two countries and explains the sources of these differences. Three such major differences are examined in depth: (l) trends in national bond holdings, (2) commercial and savings bank deposit activity, and (3) changes in the level of building society share holdings. An historical analysis of the capital markets in these two countries serves to explain these differences. I must conclude from the evidence presented here that individuals in both countries, having similar non-economic prejudices concerning the distribution of their personal financial wealth, have chosen those assets which best meet their investment needs. It is the institutions and investment opportunities that differ between the countries. Governmental desires have led the two countries to develop different sets of government or industry regulations. Therefore, individual patterns of financial wealth holding have diverged within the constraints of the two systems.