“Middle class” is a term that has a hundred different meanings if you ask a hundred people for their definition. Unlike my frustrations with people who call a house a liability, or more accurately, those who claim a house is not an asset, the label of middle class leaves a lot to personal interpretation.
While a class system isn’t as important in today’s society as it once was, class mobility, moving from one station in life to a higher status, isn’t as easy as success seminars claim. In fact, downward mobility may be the trend for a while. But how can we know where we stand without a firm definition of class?
Wkipedia, certainly not the ultimate authority but good for a consensus view, offers these factors of the middle class:
- Achievement of tertiary education.
- Holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, engineers, politicians and doctors regardless of their leisure or wealth.
- Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house ownership and jobs which are perceived to be “secure.”
- Cultural identification. Often in the United States, the middle class are the most eager participants in pop culture…
U.S. News has a helpful guide for gauging your middle class status. For example, the middle 50% household incomes of the country ranges between $51,000 to $123,000 for a four-person, two-parent family. The typical home’s value is $231,000 and is about 2,300 square feet.
The average family takes one week-long vacation, while some select few in the middle class might take two weeks throughout the year. Each year, this family saves $2,600 for retirement and spends $14,200 on necessary household expenses.
These statistics are mostly meaningless on an individual level, however. A household income of $51,000 might qualify you for middle class in Pahrump, Nevada, but you might not be able to afford to rent a modest apartment in New York City on that salary.
After giving the concept of middle class some thought, I’ve settled on one major touchstone that should be accurate regardless of where you work or your education level. If you are not living paycheck-to-paycheck, and instead earn enough money to handle your necessary expenses with enough left over to save for immediate and long-term goals, you are at least in the middle class.
If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, it would be harder to convince someone you could be labeled middle class.
Labels, like “middle class,” fulfill what seems to be an innate need to classify people and things. I’m fine without labels. How would you define middle class?
Updated December 21, 2010 and originally published April 17, 2010.