Thinking unkind thoughts about the Internal Revenue Service?


The overworked army that is so ruthless about collecting our income and letting us have a small weekly allowance deserves our thanks for at least two efforts.

The first is their Olympic ability to set new records for reading complexity, as measured by the Flesch-Kincaid reading level test. If there were a William Faulkner Memorial Syntax Award, our friends at the Internal Revenue Service would surely win it.

But that is not our subject today.

The second reason we should be thankful for the IRS is their ongoing effort to help those who did not pick their parents with sufficient care. If you attained the age of 21 with a net worth of less than $1 million you are one of these unfortunate people. Having missed the opportunity to achieve wealth by inheritance, the IRS offers statistical help for the next best thing--- achieving wealth by marriage.

Needless to say, this service is not advertised. You won't find a mention of it on their website.

But it is there.

It is free. It has been available for years. I first made use of their information in the early 70's when, writing under my anagram name, Crust E. Snob, I advised readers of a major women's fashion magazine on where to find wealthy bachelors. Back then wealthy was defined as anyone with a mere $60,000. Today, you are not considered a "top wealth holder" until you have at least $600,000. Most of those who would marry for money would probably insist on adding another zero.  

The Federal Reserve gets its information on the distribution of wealth through its Survey of Consumer Finances, which is done every three years through interviews with thousands of people, all of whom are living.   The Internal Revenue Service, which has always marched to a different drummer, also gets its information from thousands of people, but all of them are dead.

I'm not kidding.

They use a method called the "estate multiplier technique" and its proof positive the buggers will never leave us alone. The estate multiplier technique is based on the idea that the distribution of wealth among the recently dead (i.e., through estate tax filings) is representative of the distribution of wealth among those still living, provided you have a living actuary to show the way.

Alas, the most recent estate study was based on 1995 data but if you wait patiently and watch their website, you may soon see the most recent data on wealth in America. Make a note of this: Go to, click on "tax stats", then click again on "Estates/Wealth/Gifts" and you'll see a long list of compressed files. The most recent was published in 1998 so we ought to be getting some new data soon.

Who says everything from the IRS creates dread?

What we can learn from the 1995 study is that we've got about 4.1 million "top wealth holders."

Most are married. (Why am I not surprised?)

Some 1.8 million of the 2.6 million male top wealth holders are married--- 70 percent. Women are more cautious. Only 48 percent of the 1.5 million top wealth-holding women are married. Another 31.9 percent are widowed, 11.1 percent are single, and 9.0 percent are "other" which means separated, divorced, or otherwise not classifiable. (If you've been there, you understand.)

Where do you go to find the largest concentration of top wealth holders? Where is wealth relatively rare, so we can avoid fruitless travel?

Again, our friends at the IRS have the information. I'll bet you're not surprised that California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have high concentrations of the well heeled.   So do Washington, DC and Illinois. The state of Washington is also a good hunting ground, it's wealth much enhanced by Microsoft.

How Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska made the list is harder to understand but as Vice President Cheney can tell you, Wyoming has no state income tax.

Texas, on the other hand, is only an average place to seek marital wealth in spite of having no state income tax. I guess that tells us something about exaggeration.