What is the average Australian net worth by age? The answer is trying to nail jelly to a wall, but there are a few numbers that can give some guidance.

Everybody has the unfortunate habit of wanting to compare themselves to a ‘baseline’ in order to define themselves.

This manifests itself in many ways, but in an age where we’re met with headlines prophesying doom and gloom, perhaps all we want is a bit of reassurance that we’re on the ‘right track’ (whatever that means to you).

One of the more pressing things that keeps us up at night is simply whether or not we have enough money. Whether we have enough assets in the bank to stay clothed and fed should everything go wrong at once.

But trying to figure out where the baseline is when it comes to something like net wealth is difficult to say the least.

First up, what does ‘net wealth’ even mean?

Just a word of warning — the following isn’t intended as personal wealth advice. As you’ll discover, the range of factors which can affect personal circumstances are varied to say the least.

The baseline

Net wealth

There’s a school of thought that how wealthy somebody is should be measured by how much cash they can produce at 48 hours notice — but net wealth takes into account a whole raft of measures.

At its surface, it’s simply current assets minus current debts.

Current assets may be things like average holdings in superannuation, property, shares, cash, and even the furniture you have.

Current debt may a student loan, a mortgage, or a personal loan you need to repay.

Now we know what ‘net wealth’ is, we need to start putting some meat on the bones.

’The median Australian and what they own’

According to a Credit Suisse report, published last year, the ‘median Australian’ has about US$191,453 in median wealth — which is roughly AU$249,000 (US$1=AU$1.3 at the time of the report’s release)

From the Credit Suisse report

If we take that as a baseline, we then need to know how old the ‘median Australian’ is.

Thanks to the 2016 census, we know that it is 38 years.

So it could be reasonably concluded that a 38 year old in Australia has a net wealth is $249,000.

It’s a starting point, at least, but what it is made up of?

Breaking down that 38 year old’s assets

Part of what makes Australians so wealthy (comparatively) is that we have a compulsory superannuation system.

According to a report put out by the Association of Super Funds Australia [PDF], the average male between the ages of 35 and 39 can expect a super fund balance of $64,590 while women in the same age bracket can expect a super balance of $48,874.

Let’s split the difference and say a 38 year old’s average super balance is $56,732.

Take that away from Credit Suisse’s estimate of $249,000 and you’re left with $192,268 to account for.

It’s hard to get an exact read on the average value of a 38 year old’s household items and things like cars and fancy appliances, so let’s say for the sake of argument that all accounts to $50,000.

So we’re then left with $142,268 to account for.

Muddying the waters is the fact that Australians, by and large, are highly leveraged — with the average debt to income ratio about 200 percent.

But, a large chunk of that debt is likely spent on mortgage payments — which are going towards generating net wealth rather than throwing away cash.

According to ING data supplied to the Sydney Morning Herald, the average home buyer is 31 — although this is likely to be skewed to a higher age bracket in capital cities.

So it’s reasonable to assume our average 38 year old has had a few years to chew into the loan.

But would it be reasonable to assume that the value of the dwelling bought by the 38 year old when they were 31 is now worth $142,268 more than the outstanding debt on the loan?

What’s more, does the 38 year old have any investments which may count towards net wealth?

Again, there are too many variables in play to make a reasonable and accurate assessment.

But we now have ‘some’ idea of what the ‘average’ net wealth is and a starting point to make some projections.

The end point

We know the average net wealth in Australia is $249,000, and the median Australian is 38 years old, but that doesn’t answer our original question: what should be your net worth right now?

If you’re 38 years old, this has already been answered for you. But what if you’re 20, 50, or 70 years old?

To find that out, we need to find the point where a person’s net wealth would be the highest it’s going to be — and it turns out that’s around 70 years old.

Why 70?

While people can start drawing down on their superannuation between 55-60 (depending on when you were born) and the official start to the aged pension age is 67 — those ASFA stats indicate the highest level of superannuation people have is at around 70 years old.

For 70 year old males it’s $214,030 and for women it’s $109,831. Average those, and you’re left with $161,930.

Note that this won’t be enough for a ‘comfortable’ retirement in the future — it’s just the figure right now.

We can also safely assume that if somebody is going to own a property and pay off the mortgage they have done so by the time they’re 70 years old — so we can add the value of real estate into their net wealth.

The average price of a house in Australia right now is $544,813, which is an average of the median prices for each capital city over the past 12 months — as listed here.

Again, this is highly variable depending on where the property actually is (and when you read this).

Again, if we then assume the value of somebody’s possessions at that age to be $50,000, we’re left with a grand total of $756,743.

Again, this doesn’t go into whether somebody has other assets — because stats around that are almost impossible to find.

The other end of the spectrum

Now we know the absolute average maximum net wealth and the average net wealth and what ages those are accrued — we need to figure out when we have the least net wealth.

Well, it’s technically when people are still living under their parents’ roofs, but for the sake of this scenario we’ll say it’s when somebody is 20 years old.

They may be out in the workforce, they still may be studying, or they may have completed their studies and have accrued student debt.

In either case, they haven’t had a lot of time to build wealth.

In fact, their wealth in most cases can simply be how much their belongings are worth.

We’re going to be generous here and assume the average 20 year old has net wealth of $15,000.

So now we have a rough estimate on net wealth at 20 ($15,000), 40 ($250,000) and 70 ($756,000).

Then, it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.

The bottom line

Back in 2015, the Wall Street Journal put together some data around average wealth in the US by age — which you can find here [$].

It found that the difference in net wealth between 20 and 30 was 6.5x, between 30 and 40 was 3.14x, 40 and 50 was 2.01x, 50 and 60 was 1.45x.

If we apply that to our 20 year old who starts out with $15,000 in net wealth, we’d get:

20 YEARS OLD $15,000
30 YEARS OLD $98,000
40 YEARS OLD $308,000
50 YEARS OLD $620,000
60 YEARS OLD $900,000

 

However, according to the WSJ (which leveraged data from the US federal reserve) it forecasts peak net wealth age at 62 as opposed to the 70 we’ve assumed.

It also takes averages rather than medians, which can skew the data in all sorts of wonderful ways (because the US has a huge pool of mega-rich people).

We know from the ASFA data that Australians tend to reach ‘peak superannuation balance’ in their 70s — we also know that people may not actually start drawing down on their superannuation for a few years after they retire in their mid-60s.

Putting all that together, can you reasonably say what an Australian’s net worth be at any given point in time?

We’ve put together a rough guide below.

20 YEARS OLD $15,000
30 YEARS OLD $80,000
40 YEARS OLD $249,000
50 YEARS OLD $378,373
60 YEARS OLD $567,558
70 YEARS OLD $756,743

 

Invariably, the difference in how the data is calculated and the unavailability of data make coming up with a single rough-and-ready number really quite difficult.

Remember: this isn’t necessarily what you’ll need for a comfortable retirement, but our best guess at the median net wealth of Australians by age.

It’s also why you just shouldn’t compare yourself with others – run your own race and accumulate wealth where you can.

So, what is the average Australian net worth by age? It’s virtually impossible to tell — but at least we hope we’ve set your mind at ease, or given you cause to get into gear.

 

This content does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.