Class survey results, part one

78 people took the survey, though not all 78 completed the whole survey. All were U.S. residents.

34 of 77 people identify as “middle class” while 18 identify as “upper middle class” and 12 people identified their current class background as “lower middle class.” In total, that means 64 out of 78 people identified with the “middle class” – which means either my sample size of people taking this survey is drastically different from the national average of who is considered “middle class” or people have a broad definition of what middle class looks like. 7 people identified as “working class” and another 5 identified as “poor.” Only one person identified themselves as “wealthy.”

Contrasting this with what people said about their actual family income, the largest percentage of people said their families made between 100K to 150K a year – 14 people or 21%. 9 people said their income was MORE than 150K a year, four of whom said their family income is more than 200K a year. Another 11 people said their family incomes were 60K to 80K a year, and 10 people said it was 80K to 100K a year. 10 people said they only make 20-40K a year in family income, 6 people said they make under 20K, and 7 people said they make 40K to 60 K. For reference, according to the U.S. Census, the median American income for 2008 was $50,303 which would mean the average American family income would be around $100K. So if 100K is the median household income, surely those 23 people who make 60K or less a year in family income would be considered “poor” or “working class” or “lower middle class” – at least by income bracket. And in fact, 24 people listed themselves as one of those three categories, though by far the tendency was for people to opt for “lower middle class.” One could speculate that the stigma of identifying as “working class” or “poor” might have pushed people towards this option. On the other end of the spectrum, with 9 people identifying their income as 50K more than the median American family income, it is curious that only one person opted to label themselves “wealthy.” There seems to be a stigma on the other hand (a kind of “rich guilt” factor) that makes people round down their class identity to “upper middle class” rather than identify as “wealthy.” So the net result is that we have a lot of people identifying with the “middle class” than who actually appear to fit the definition of “middle class”, at least in terms of income.

But class is much more than income. In terms of profession, 42 people identified with middle or upper class professions. Only 68 people responded to this question. For operational definition, a middle or upper class profession is one that requires advanced schooling (doctor, lawyer, therapist, academic, engineer, religious leader, CEO) and/or the person in that field has sought it out as a “profession” rather than simply a means to an end, which is why I include graduate students and artists in this category as well. By contrast, 22 people selected jobs that were more working class in nature: government employee (6), small business owner (5), military (2), service industry (6), and administrative (3). Three people indicated that they were unemployed, one of whom reports they collect disability. Putting these results together with the results about current income level, two thirds (62%) of the people work in typically middle class professions but 82% of respondents identify with the middle class, largely because of the tendency of people to both round up and round down their incomes in order to avoid identifying as either rich or poor.

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~ by realsupergirl on August 26, 2010.

5 Responses to “Class survey results, part one”

  1. I’m not sure I agree about your link between income and class. Because class is inherited at least to an extent, and your questions about schooling reinforced this attitude, ones current income is less relevant to the determination of class than one’s parents income, or perhaps profession.

    A second question about class is if one transitions from one to another, and if one sees oneself as doing so. My take is that it’s fairly rare. A great student from a lower class family may achieve middle class status with college and a better job, but may still feel lower class. A brat from a wealthy family might end up in a trailer park on meth, but still identify themselves as upper class. Right now, I’m in grad school which has cut my time for consulting which in turn has cut my income. But my attitudes, except the one that makes me reduce discretionary spending, remain relatively unchanged.

    Finally, wealth is a question strictly of income, but class involves attitudes, opportunities and associates. These don’t all change by income level. And especially in the current economy, it’s not unlikely that one’s income will not match one’s class identity. The circumstances of our life also make a difference: A 20 year old making $60k is doing well, but a 40 year old isn’t. Different regions will also make a difference.

    You described jobs that people work to get into which implies that the jobs you described as working class aren’t ones one works to enter. As a consultant who works with small business, most of these folks work their asses off to get where they are and had to make incredibly difficult decisions about their lives to open their business. Government jobs usually require considerable education which makes entering these jobs deliberate. A friend of mine worked very hard to get a job as an admin so she would have a predictable enough schedule to finish her schooling. While it may not have been her end goal career wise (and when she finished schooling, the company helped her find a new role within their ranks) suggesting that she fell into it doesn’t credit her with the work she did to make it happen.

    • I agree that class often is more about attitude toward work and money than how much money you have, but we use the word to indicate income as well. Part of the purpose of the survey was to try and parse out some of these differences and nuances to the meaning of “class.”

      Government jobs are a little hard to classify, because people can be engineers or business majors in government jobs, but typically those people lead with their profession rather than their employer when asked “what they do.” This is a distinctively middle class marker. Entry level government jobs often only require a high school diploma, and are great alternatives to the retail/corporate world which can be less stable (better benefits, room for moving up) to people who are essentially unskilled workers when they start. I include military in this because many of the same class attitudes are true for military families too. But government workers and military members are a good example of where income does not equal class – tends to be working class in attitude with higher than average salaries.

      I agree that people don’t tend to move out of their class background, regardless of how much money they make. J.L.’s mom, for example, makes a decent salary with great benefits for Columbia Sportswear, and lives a pretty well-off lifestyle, but she still retains strongly working class attitudes toward money and work.

  2. I love surveys and polls too and I take an interest in the data underlying them.
    That being said, there’s a rather large hole in your analysis based on a misunderstanding of the Census Data you examined. “For reference, according to the U.S. Census, the median American income for 2008 was $50,303 which would mean the average American family income would be around $100K. So if 100K is the median household income, surely those 23 people who make 60K or less a year in family income would be considered “poor” or “working class” or “lower middle class” – at least by income bracket.”

    The census gives the 53k median figure for households, not individuals. Therefore, the median household income is not 100k, but rather 53k. Any conclusions drawn from that error are suspect.

    • Yeah, I realized that after I published this analysis. It kind of makes the results even more dramatic, actually. I mean, if 50K is the median HOUSEHOLD income, how can anyone making 200K not think they are “wealthy”? It boggles the mind.

      Thanks for dropping by! Do I know you?

      • I think the $200k issue is more that this does not seem to put one into the top 1%, or even outside of one’s peers. If one works in a job making around $100k per year, one will be working with other professionals who make about the same money. Instead of comparing to the median, one compares to one’s peers – and often will only see where one falls short. So your co-worker buys a boat and you can’t afford one? You won’t see yourself as wealthy even if you bought a luxury car that the co-worker can’t afford along with the boat.

        Also, the posh salaries may be in regions that are more expensive. I made pretty good money while living in San Francisco, but always felt one paycheck away from homelessness because the city was so expensive!

        Finally, those working for $200k fall into a different category from those who simply have an income of $200k without working. An income of $200k per year doesn’t put one into the top 1% of Americans in terms of wealth, which remains the standard to indicate wealthy to many Americans.

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