Why are there so many rich Jews in America? This seems like an odd question to ask, but it arises in the context of studies of income mobility. The normal question in such studies is why one or another group does less well than anticipated. It is useful to ask as well why a group does better than might have been anticipated. That is the topic of this paper.
I begin by reviewing the evidence that brought this question to the fore. I then attempt to answer two questions. First, are Jews among the very rich because they were discriminated against in other activities? Second, are Jews among the very rich because of some aspect of minority behavior? I suggest that the answer is no to the first question and yes to the second. Along the way, I present a small probability model to show how classic minority behavior might have achieved the observed result. The assumptions needed for this demonstration are quite strong, implying other factors at work as well.
Forbes Magazine collects and publishes annually a list of the 400 richest people in the United States, as it has done since 1982. I examined the ethnic background of these rich people in the context of trying to explain why the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies have remained male, white, and Protestant for a century or more (Temin 1999a; 1999b).