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Inheritances Deliver Biggest Benefit to the Wealthiest

New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that younger generations are likely to inherit much more wealth than their predecessors did, both in absolute terms and relative to their other sources of wealth. However, within each generation, those who are already well off tend to inherit the most, and this has implications for inequality and social mobility.

Ranking current pensioners by total lifetime income (excluding inheritance), those in the top 20% have inherited four times as much as the bottom 20% on average. Among younger generations, those with higher incomes are significantly more likely to expect an inheritance than those with lower incomes.

Between 2002–03 and 2012–13, the wealth of elderly households (those in which all members are 80 or older) increased by 45%, mostly as a result of higher homeownership and rising house prices. However, 72% of these households now expect to leave an inheritance, up from 60% a decade ago, with a particularly sharp increase in the proportion expecting to leave a large inheritance.

Younger generations look much more likely to inherit than their predecessors. Of those born in the 1970s, 75% have received or expect to receive an inheritance, compared with 61% of those born in the 1950s and less than 40% of those born in the 1930s.

The largest inheritances tend to go to those who are already well off, says the IFS. Among current pensioners, more than half of those with families well enough off to leave them more than £250,000 in inheritance have lifetime incomes (excluding inheritances) in the top 20% of the population.

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