The definition of ‘middle class’ varies wildly, depending on who you ask. For some, it’s a mindset. For others, it’s simply a function of how much money you money you make.
Because of the fuzziness of the definition, far more Americans consider themselves middle class than the number who qualify based on income.
A new survey by Northwestern Mutual found that 70 percent of Americans consider themselves middle class. However a 2015 report from Pew Research Center shows that the middle class has been shrinking over the past four decades and now makes up only 50 percent of the United States’ total population.
One reason for this discrepancy might be the fact that wages have been largely flat while costs have gone up, so, in many places, even those making a six-figure income feel like they’re struggling to get by.
Of the survey participants who labeled themselves as middle class, 50 percent earn between $50,000 and $125,000 annually. Although these Americans consider themselves in the middle, the actual dollar amounts needed to qualify as middle class are slightly lower. Pew Research Center defines it as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, which was $55,775 as of 2016.
That means singles making between $24,000 and $72,000 annually are middle class.
The survey revealed a few interesting demographic differences as well.
Single people are far less likely to consider themselves middle class. Only 57 percent of single men and 59 percent of single women label themselves as such, compared to 84 percent of non-single men and 74 percent of non-single women.
And according to the survey, most of the movement into the middle class has been upward. A fully 83 percent of survey participants who say they are middle class today but weren’t five years ago largely considered themselves lower middle class or low income previously.
Despite reports that the middle class is shrinking, it seems that the definition of middle class as a mindset still holds strong.
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