If we use income to identify the global middle class, then (according to Pew Research), a middle income family of four annually lives on $14,600 to $29,200 and receives 17.1 percent of the global income pie:
However, there is much more.
Defining the Middle Class
When Brookings defined the American middle class in 2018, they used “cash, credentials, and culture.”
If we limit our definition to money, middle class still has several meanings. The problem is deciding whether to look at a median or at quintiles. It is also possible to focus on the distance from a poverty line or purchasing power.
Even here, though, there are more possibilities. We have not specified if we mean disposable income or when household size makes a difference.
Among many, these are three definitions:
The credential approach takes us to education and occupation. For education, we can use criteria that relate to years of school and one’s highest degree. Scholars have then categorized people with “less than a college degree” as working class but Brookings was quick to point out that most American don’t believe you need a college degree to be considered middle class. And next, adding occupational criteria, we might distinguish between employees with a labor contract (working class) and those with a “service relationship.”
While our third possibility lets us self-define, it also touches attitudes and behavior. Citing home ownership, family vacations, and a college education, a 2010 Commerce Department definition emphasizes our aspirations.
These were the results when survey participants themselves decided if they were middle class:
Our Bottom Line: Changes in the Middle Class
To further complicate all of this, Pew suggests that the composition of the middle class has changed during the past 50 years. Increasing by less than upper income households, the middle class (as they define it) has less of a share of aggregate income. In addition, older adults and Black Americans have made the biggest moves up the U.S. income ladder as have married adults and multi-income households. Still though, Black, Hispanic, and older adults (65+) lag behind.
So, where does this leave us? I suspect it creates massive middle class territory in which many of us dwell. I also wonder if it helps us understand our polarization.
My sources and more: Seeing Pew research, here and here, started my middle class journey. Then from there, I went to Brookings for some excellent analysis. (Please note that Pew’s conclusions for global income distribution were baed on 2011 dollars and purchasing power parity.)