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This paper investigates the contribution of entrepreneurship to increasing U.S. wealth inequality. Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), I document that, since 2000, the increase in the wealth shares of the top 0.1% and 1% groups of households is almost exclusively driven by entrepreneurs, identified empirically as private business owner-managers. Additional evidence from the SCF points to an increase in the average returns to entrepreneurial ventures as a likely driver of these patterns. I develop analytical characterizations of summary measures of inequality in the context of a model of wealth accumulation featuring heterogeneity in investment returns and in labor earnings across households in order to examine the restrictions that the wealth distribution imposes on the underlying return heterogeneity. To match the relative position of entrepreneurs across the wealth distribution and the level of top concentration in the SCF data, as well as changing inequality from the 1990s to the 2010s, the model requires high persistence of entrepreneurial status across households and a substantial increase in the average excess return to entrepreneurial investments. The associated slow transition dynamics of the wealth distribution in the model imply that, if not reversed, recent structural shifts may lead to widening inequality for many years to come.


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