What Does it Mean to be Middle Class?

by | Apr 10, 2018


In June of 2017 a Pew Research poll asked Americans if they were “middle class.” Sixty-Two percent responded that they thought they were middle class, but most weren’t sure what exactly middle class is.

There is no precise definition of middle class and it varies by region given differing standards of living and it varies by household size given that a household of five will have a different financial needs than a household of two. The Pew Research Center defines “Middle Class” as household income that ranges from two-thirds to double the median household income. Nationally, that means that Middle Class ranges from about $40,000 to $120,000 as the national median household income is $59,000.  That means nationally “upper income” starts at around $120,000. There are regional differences. Here’s an interesting chart:


So, how many people are actually middle class? Less than the 62% who thought they were in the Pew Survey mentioned above. For the first time, in 2015, the middle class slipped into the minority at just under 50%.


How do you rank given your income and household size? What is lower, middle and upper income in your city or state? Here’s a calculator from Pew Research Center: Middle Class Calculator

Income disparity in America continues to rise. From NPR: “By 2013, families in the upper-income brackets had seven times as much wealth as middle-income families. Compare that to 1983, when the difference was three times as much.”


Of course, “class” is a concept that goes beyond just income. According to the Brookings Institution, “class is not just a question of money, but also of occupational status, culture, and education.” The above data just focused on income.


  1. It occurs to me that in America the “Middle Class” could be seen as an aspirational term. If one sees themselves in the Middle Class, even by their own terms, it means they may feel they are better off than some of the population. At the same time, being in the Middle, they may be able to aspire to the Upper Income Class.
    Sources of frustration can come from constantly changing rules and measurements of income. The tug of war between regulations, taxation, government services and personal freedoms affect these definitions and our attitudes.
    Classififying the Middle Class is about as easy as wrangling cats.

  2. Really interesting! Based on the middle class calculator, St. Louis has a higher percentage in the upper class than the country as a whole.


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