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Why the Wealthiest Benefit Most From Dow 14,000

Friday, 1 Feb 2013 | 11:18 AM ET
Pigeon Productions SA | Riser | Getty Images

Are you feeling rich at Dow 14,000?

Unless you're in the One Percent, the answer is probably no.

While the surging stock market has boosted 401K plans and pension funds for many Americans, it's the top one percent who tend to get the biggest lift from significant stock market rallies.

According to the Federal Reserve, the wealthiest one percent of Americans own 52 percent of all directly owned, publicly traded stocks in the United States. The top 5 percent own 82 percent of directly held stocks.

(Read more: Dow 14,000 Fuels a New Wealth Boom)

Yes, stocks have become more widely held over the past two decades. And roughly half of Americans own some stocks through mutual funds and pension funds. The higher Dow and the "wealth effect" will no doubt lead to greater spending in the economy over time.

Feeling Rich at Dow 14,000?
If you're not feeling rich at Dow 14,000, you're not alone, reports CNBC's Robert Frank.

But only about a third of all Americans hold more than $10,000 in stock, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. So while more Americans hold stock, they don't hold much. Wealth for most families comes from their homes and jobs – which have not not recovered as quickly or as strongly as stocks.

"Gains from the recent uptick in the stock market go almost entirely into the hands of the rich," said Edward Wolff, an economics professor at New York University who specializes in household wealth.

Adding to the disparity in stocks are the investing habits of the wealthy and non-wealthy. While many smaller investors got out of the stock market during the crisis or withdrew money from funds, the wealthy kept more money in the market – at least on a dollar basis. As a result, the wealthy had more money in the market as it surged after 2009.

Read more: What's 'Rich'? Depends on How Old (and Rich) You Are)

According to figures from Cerulli Associates, investors with less than $100,000 in investible assets on average had $17,975 in the stock market at the end of 2011, down from $19,732 at the end of 2007. Those with $500,000 to $2 million saw their average increase by $63,000, to $966,948.

For now, the Dow 14,000 is only highlighting the two-speed recovery – as the stock-dependent wealthy are back to 2007, and the house-dependent masses are still waiting for their rebound.

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.