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Chapter 1: Introduction, 2008/10 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 12 July 2012 Download PDF


Wealth is an important component of the economic well-being of households, as a household's resources can be influenced by its stock of wealth. However, data on wealth is sparse and consequently measures of household income are often used as the sole gauge of economic well-being.

The increase in home ownership, the move from traditional roles and working patterns, a higher proportion of the population now owning shares and contributing to investment schemes as well as the accumulation of wealth over the life cycle, particularly through pension participation, have all contributed to the changing composition of wealth.

To understand the economic well-being of households it is increasingly necessary to look further than a simple measure of household income.

The Wealth and Assets Survey (WAS) is a longitudinal household survey, which aims to address gaps identified in data about the economic well-being of households by gathering information on, among other things, level of savings and debt, saving for retirement, how wealth is distributed among households and factors that affect financial planning.

This report

This is the second of three parts which, together will form ‘Wealth in Great Britain: Main Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2008/10’. 

Part 1 of the publication focused on the cross sectional change between wave 1 and wave 2 household property and physical wealth. This current report completes the cross sectional comparisons, focusing on household total wealth, financial wealth and private pension wealth.

The final part of the publication will concentrate on exploring some of the changes between the cross sectional estimates by undertaking longitudinal analysis. Longitudinal analysis will focus on individual change but will take into account household changes in wealth.

As in previous releases of data from the Wealth and Assets Survey, information on both means and medians is presented. It is important to consider both measures. Where the distribution of wealth is unequal (for example in private pension wealth where a small proportion of individuals have high values of wealth), the median gives a better measure for the whole population.

The mean, which provides the arithmetic average, is likely to be influenced by high values so it does not reflect the experience of most individuals. Large differences between the mean and the median occur where wealth is not equally distributed.

If respondents to the WAS questionnaire were unable to provide precise values of wealth held then they were offered a choice of banded values. The precise values of those banded responses were later imputed based on the distribution of the precise values obtained from other respondents. It is therefore statistically valid to consider mean and median values using both precise and imputed data.

Information on wealth is as reported; it has not been adjusted for inflation.

Technical details

Technical details specific to wave 2 of the Wealth and Assets survey were given in Part 1: Chapter 4 (545.7 Kb Pdf) .

Some key points are repeated below:

The survey

  • The WAS samples the population of private households in Great Britain. 

  • The first wave of the WAS commenced in July 2006 and lasted for two years, ending in June 2008.

  • The second wave returned to responding households from wave 1 who gave their permission to be re-interviewed. In addition, households who were eligible at wave 1 but could not be contacted were approached again at wave 2.

  • The second wave of the survey commenced in July 2008 and ran until the end of June 2010.

Data quality

  • As the wave 2 data is the first to allow longitudinal analysis, much effort has gone into considering the quality of the data. 

  • Longitudinal editing was introduced at wave 2, using information gathered at wave 1 to validate the wave 2 data, but also looking at the wave 1 data in the light of data given at wave 2. 

  • In any sample survey, there will always be missing values for individual questions. However, when constructing estimates of wealth it is necessary that valid responses have been given to all the component estimates. Therefore, any missing values are imputed. The imputation methodology was improved in wave 2 to take into account the information gathered at both waves. 

  • As a result of the points above, estimates for 2006/08 data (wave 1) published in this report may differ from those published in the wave 1 report . Specifically, two types of revisions were made: some additional editing of wave 1 was possible based on evidence from wave 2; revisions were made to imputed data in wave 1 as additional information gathered at wave 2 allowed a more informed imputation to be made – thus improving the quality of the wave 1 data. In general this has made only minor differences to the wave 1 cross sectional data, but will greatly improve the comparisons made using longitudinal data at individual level (Part 3 of this report).

  • Where possible the aggregate data have been subject to comparative checks against external sources. 

  • No estimates are included which are based on fewer than 30 responding households. However, due to the complexity of the data (imputed values, complex weighting etc) no formal significance testing has been undertaken at this stage. 

  • The WAS is a long interview, taking on average some 90 minutes to be completed for each household. In 2006/08 (wave 1), it was decided that some questions would be addressed to a sub-sample of respondents: 17,316 households (56.6 per cent of the full sample of 30,595 households). This became known as the ‘half sample’. Some components of physical wealth were included in the topics addressed to the ‘half sample’. Therefore, the wave 1 estimates of physical wealth in this report are based on the half sample of households. In wave 2, such questions were addressed to all households. See Chapter 3 (Part 1), Physical Wealth (545.7 Kb Pdf) for further details.

All the above issues were reviewed as part of the process to improve this and subsequent waves of the survey.

Availability of detailed and unpublished data

The tables and charts in this report provide summary results. Each of these is linked to a spreadsheet giving the source data, and often more detailed results. The spreadsheets can be accessed by clicking on the table or chart. It is also possible to request data from the Wealth and Assets Survey datasets in tabular form from ONS.

Please contact for more information.

The full wave 2 dataset will be made publicly available via the UK Data Archive from August 2012. At the same time a revised version of the wave 1 dataset will also be archived, which will include revised edited and imputed data. It will be possible to link both datasets.

Demographic characteristics of the sample

Part 2 of the report covers total and financial wealth at household level, together with some individual level distributions. Private pension wealth is considered mainly at the individual level, with some household level comparisons.

The distribution of household wealth has been considered by key household socio-demographic characteristics: region of residence and household type. 

In the report on wave 1 data, the distribution of wealth was also considered across some characteristics of the Household Reference Person (HRP)1, but when looking at wave 2 of the survey, it became clear that the HRP can change more frequently than originally anticipated2.

Therefore characteristics such as age, employment status, qualifications and socio-economic activity are only considered at an individual level.

Notes for Demographic characteristics of the sample

  1. See Glossary (69.9 Kb Pdf)

  2. The HRP (household reference person) had changed between waves in nearly one eighth of households who responded in both wave1 and wave 2 of the survey. This can occur for a number of reasons, for example if the main income earner changes, households split or, new adults join a household.

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

    The United Kingdom Statistics Authority has designated these statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

    Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:

    • meet identified user needs;
    • are well explained and readily accessible;
    • are produced according to sound methods; and
    • are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.

    Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.

Supporting information

Further information

Chapter 2: Total Wealth, 2008/10 - Main results from the Wealth and Assets Survey incorporating results from the second wave of the survey
Chapter 3: Financial Wealth, 2008/10 - Main results from the Wealth and Assets Survey incorporating results from the second wave of the survey.
Chapter 4: Pension Wealth, 2008/10 - Pension Wealth chapter of the Wealth and Assets Survey (Part 2) 2008/10 report
Chapter 5: Annex on Pension Wealth Methodology, 2008/10 - Annex explaining the changes in the financial assumptions for calculating pension wealth between waves 1 and 2.
Wealth in Great Britain Wave 2 - Main results from the Wealth and Assets Survey incorporating results from the second wave of the survey.
Wealth in Great Britain - Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey
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