As U.S. corporations have grown into global behemoths, those invested in the stock market have found even bigger returns:
The stock market, as measured by the benchmark S&P 500 index, is up by more than 2,800 percent since the beginning of 1983, around the time index funds took off as a mainstream investment for corporate employees and many other middle-class professionals.
(Those figures do not include dividends and are not adjusted for inflation, which they have far outstripped; consumer prices have risen about 200 percent over those 40 years.)
The boomers who benefited most from decades of price growth in real estate and financial assets were, in general, already rich, white or both -- attributable, in part, to years of housing discrimination and a lack of access to financial tools and advice for people of color.
But the wealth transfer in its full scope, like any widespread financial phenomenon, will have many nuances:
A patchwork of lower-wage earners may be able to move into a parent’s paid-off home in a hot housing market -- or may receive a small windfall still meaningful enough to pay off debts.
And there will be millennials, Gen X-ers and young boomers in the upper middle class set to inherit lump sums -- seemingly winners -- who will wrestle with the substantial headaches of a "sandwich generation," dealing with the expense of caring for aging parents and children at once.
There are few aspects of economic life that will go untouched by the knock-on effects of the handover: Housing, education, health care, financial markets, labor markets and politics will all inevitably be affected.
In HBO’s hit series "Succession," dynastic wealth is center stage:
The children of the Roy family, the sneering protagonists, are pitted against one another by the clan’s patriarch to see which, if any, can prevail to run the multibillion-dollar family business.
Yet amid the dark satire, the show has displayed the extent to which they are all lopsided winners.
High-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth individuals -- those with at least $5 million and $20 million in cash or easily cashable assets -- make up only 1.5 percent of all households.
Together, they constitute 42 percent of the volume of expected transfers through 2045, according to the financial research firm Cerulli Associates.
That’s about $36 trillion as of 2020 -- numbers that have most likely increased since.