There’s still no clear-cut way to define class in American, because class can be defined by things like education and occupation in addition to income and net worth.
Nonetheless, Pew Research Center took a stab at defining class in a 2016 report, noting that “middle-income Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size” while “lower-income households have incomes less than 67 percent of the median and upper-income households have incomes that are more than double the median.” The national median household income was $59,039 in 2016.
Pew factored in household size because smaller households require less to support the same lifestyle as larger households.
As noted above, there’s more to class than earnings, but household income can be a useful tool. Here’s Pew’s breakdown of how much you have to earn each year to be considered upper-income, depending on the size of your family:
Household of one: Minimum of $72,126
Household of two: Minimum of $102,001
Household of three: Minimum of $124,925
Household of four: Minimum of $144,251
Household of five: Minimum of $161,277
Still, just because you fit into those parameters doesn’t necessarily mean you will feel upper-class.
Courtney Mishoe and her husband are making more than $180,000 a year to support their five-person family. Still, the suburban Georgia couple doesn’t “feel wealthy,” Mishoe told Todd C. Frankel of the Washington Post. Some people living in the area who earn $100,000 “are living paycheck to paycheck,” the Post reports, and even families earning up to $250,000 “don’t consider themselves to be high-earners.”
These situations illustrate how difficult it can be to avoid lifestyle creep and how a hefty paycheck doesn’t always guarantee financial peace of mind.