The percentage of Americans who invest in the stock market tends to fluctuate with the condition of the economy. When the economy is stronger, the percentage rises. When the economy is relatively weak, the percentage falls. Even so, surveys have consistently shown that more than half of Americans have money invested in the stock market.
The most reliable and frequently cited statistics on the percentage of Americans who invest in the stock market come from the Gallup polling organization. Every year since 1998, Gallup has asked about stock investments in at least one of its nationwide polls. Gallup asks respondents whether they have any money invested in the stock market through individual shares, a stock mutual fund, or a self-directed retirement plan such as a 401(k) or an IRA.
In an April 2012 Gallup poll, 53 percent of respondents said they had money invested in the stock market. That was the smallest percentage in any poll since Gallup began tracking the number. The high was 67 percent in June 2002.
Trends and Averages
The 53 percent figure in the spring of 2012 continued a sharp downward trend that coincided with a weakened U.S. economy. In April 2007, before the economic crisis that precipitated the deepest recession since the Great Depression, 65 percent of Gallup poll respondents reported having stock market investments. In each succeeding April, the number fell to 62 percent, 57 percent, 56 percent, 54 percent and 53 percent. By contrast, the percentages in the mid-2000s, when the economy was seen as stronger, were regularly in the 60s. Over 40 polls taken since 1998, the Americans saying they had stock market investments averaged about 60.3 percent.
Gallup also regularly asks Americans whether, if they had $1,000 to spend, the stock market would be a good place to put it. Interestingly, the percentage who say "Yes" is usually significantly lower than the percentage who report being invested in the stock market. That might be a consequence of many people having retirement plans that leave them no choice but to be in stocks. In 2008, as the financial crisis was coming into focus, only 33 percent said it would be a good idea to invest in stocks, compared with the 62 percent who were actually invested. Even in June 2002, when 67 percent reported having stocks, just 45 percent said investing in stocks would be a wise use of $1,000.
Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.