Are You Middle Class?

The NYT has an interesting interactive graphic that shows you where you fall in terms of class in our society based on 4 criteria: Occupation, Education, Income and Wealth.

So, what class are you? When you get done playing with that, the NYT has a special section on class that looks like it could eat up a chunk of our reading time. —MEGHANN MARCO

How Class Works [NYT]
Class Matters [NYT]

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  1. girlfriend 6.0 says:

    Anyone else feel a little jarred how easily class is calculable? I think the thermometer read outs make it really unnerving…

  2. enm4r says:

    Having a 4 year degree and automatically being in the 91st percentile is pretty pathetic. Especially when probably a solid 1/2 to 1/3 of the kids I knew/know in school are just there because that’s what you do after high school, or because they’re parents expected it.

  3. saram says:

    @msb2:

    I agree. And there is a large discrepancy in mine between education and wealth . . . I wonder (i.e. hope to all hell) that they match up more closely when I’m older . . .

  4. Anitra says:

    I was really surprised that simply having a bachelor’s degree puts you in the top 1/5, and “some college” in the top 2/5 (for education). I guess it’s because of generational differences – older people were less likely to pursue post-secondary education. But I only know a handful of people under 30 who never went to college; most of them are unlikely to make it up to middle class (3/5).

  5. TechnoDestructo says:

    I don’t know that I’ve ever had a job that actually existed in these surveys.

  6. ElizabethD says:

    What? I’m in the 70th percentile how? I work in a nonprofit and do not make big bucks compared to almost all of my college classmates who went into law, medicine, business. I won’t break 6 figures in this lifetime. So I have a bachelor’s degree — how very special!

    OK, I know I am privileged in the grand scale of human life in this world. And I am most grateful. Still… I agree with AnitraSmith above — who doesn’t get at least *some* college these days? The community colleges are absolutely booming. I think that’s an oddly overweighted determinant of social class in this NYT model.

  7. TechnoDestructo says:

    @AnitraSmith: You don’t know many people without college education because your location, lifestyle, or contacts restrict the pool of people you COULD know to mainly just people who have gone to college.

    People you know don’t imply anything about people you don’t. You know people through other people. If you went to college you know people who went to college who know people who went to college.

    I know a lot of both, because I went to college, but no one else in my family did.

  8. Skiffer says:

    I noticed that “Age” isn’t a factor, which I guess makes sense…

    but I would suppose that’s what puts me in the bottom quartile of net worth (student loans, recent first home purchase)when everything else is top quartile…

  9. mantari says:

    Average: 75th percentile. It puts me right where I see myself: upper middle.

  10. SadSam says:

    I read the whole series of articles on wealth from the NYT when they were initially published. The entire series is worth the read.

  11. gamble says:

    As a current college student, I find myself classless…but still classy!

  12. mantari says:

    @gamble: Stay in class.

  13. tvh2k says:

    Interesting, although I noticed that no government/military occupations were listed. Sure many have civilian equivalents, but some do not. From the discussion on digg you’ll notice that Military is on the second tab (“How class breaks down”) so perhaps it was deliberately (or accidentally?) left out.

  14. saram says:

    @Skiffer:

    I agree! Age could make a difference. And I’m also under the student loan/recent home purchase umbrella.

  15. timmus says:

    Let’s call a spade a spade… what about status symbols? A lot of us righteously use the metrics of education or career type, intelligence, and income, but quite frankly class in its meaningful form is a perception of the general public, and you’ve got to add in the status symbols.

    And “poor” wealth =

  16. tvh2k says:

    @timmus:
    I’m pretty sure that they indicated that $50-100k was “average” net worth.

  17. chipslave says:

    I have a friend who never set foot into a college in his life, got some computer certs, and now makes six figures a year. If he charted it would show him in the lower area somewhere.

    Odd…

  18. joyflop says:

    Overeducated and underpaid, that’s me!

  19. Kurtz says:

    This is old news – the NYT published this feature back in 2005.

  20. minneapolisite says:

    I’m in the top fifth? Yeah right. If that’s true, why do I feel so poor?

  21. jerkasaurus says:

    Interesting that location doesn’t seem to be a factor. Sure, my salary might make me upper middle class in some parts of the country, but people here in Connecticut look upon me with pity.

  22. Alexander says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I totally agree with you. In my group of friends that I have known most of my life I am the only one to finish college, and of course I still know some people from when I went to college.

    As a side note, I make more money than my degree would indicate, but at the same time my brother is just a high school graduate and makes more money than me and has more savings. I would rank higher than him using that graphic but in real life he is certainly better off.

  23. TWinter says:

    @TechnoDestructo: You are exactly right TechnoDestructo!

    I grew up in a rural area in the south where everyone was very working class. As a kid, the only people I knew with college degrees were my teachers, my doctor, and one of my uncles. There are lots of places like that in America, it’s just that some people haven’t had contact with them.

    And one should not forget that there are many areas in the US (inner cities and some rural) that still have alarmingly high school drop out rates. And there are probably tons of illegal alien kids that fall through the statistical cracks – they tend to be transients and I’m sure many schools, not knowing where they disappear to, report them as transfered to another school when they have in reality dropped out.

  24. realserendipity says:

    So according to that little chart with my college education and being an insurance udnerwriter, Im middle class. Yeah sure I own a house but I barely make it every month.

    Maybe they should link this article with the one the other day that said our current generation is the first to make less than our parents did.

  25. Youthier says:

    @enm4r: Yeah but you would be amazed how many of them never finish. I know two people who are SIX credits short of a bachelor’s degree and just dropped out because they were “tired of going to school”.

    Stupid. I know you can make big bucks (or just a decent living wage)without a college degree but that’s just dumb.

  26. etinterrapax says:

    @msb2: I was once really freaked out by how much energy and detail marketers put into determining class. Whether you have a family room, for example, is a class marker. There was much more, but that was what I remembered. It felt dehumanizing then, and still does.

  27. justinph says:

    A computer support specialist gets more prestige than a designer? That doesn’t seem right to me.

  28. etinterrapax says:

    @AnitraSmith: When I first heard what the real percentages were on people who went to college versus those who didn’t, I was surprised and disbelieving also. Everyone I knew in high school planned to go to college, and I didn’t go to an especially wealthy high school. But as I got out into the working world more–not, incidentally, having finished college; I didn’t get my bachelor’s until I was nearly 27–I found many, many more people my own age who never went. Because of the context in which I knew them, they mostly had homes and families and more or less what I have now, with an advanced degree. That was rather eye-opening about the true value of a college education. I mean, I was raised with the belief that if I didn’t go to college, the best I could ever expect from life was to work at McDonald’s. I’m still a little irritated with the people who told me that. It wasn’t fair.

  29. ElizabethD says:

    @jerkasaurus:

    Yes, what jerkosaurus said… Location has so much to do with social class in relation to income. In the megalopolis of the Northeast (essentially the D.C. to Boston shoreline corridor), very high costs of living and high salaries paid to top executives make it hard for 70th-percentile folks like me to do much more than exist. And no, I won’t move… we have family, careers, kids in school here, etc. So we just kvetch about it. ;-)

  30. @enm4r: “just there because that’s what you do after high school, or because they’re parents expected it.”

    But that’s an enormous part of what “class” is — cultural expectations. Almost definitionally if college is the “expected” or demanded post-high-school outcome, you’re upper-middle class. Going to college in and of itself doesn’t make you any particular class, but the expectations that you go to college with say a LOT about your class background.

    Class is about an awful lot more than just money. For example, there are a lot of lower-income jobs, particularly in non-profit work, higher education, and certain kinds of journalism that are characteristic of the children of the upper-middle-class or upper class who didn’t have to pay for college themselves and so can AFFORD to do interesting but low-paying work.

    Everybody should read Paul Fussell’s “Class” which is a little outdated, but an uproariously funny and painfully true look at class in America.

  31. nequam says:

    An education is its own reward. Widespread recognition of this point is exemplified by the high class stratum a college grad occupies on the NYT scale without regard to profession, income or net worth. One gets (or should get) an education to better himself or herself. Often this translates to a better job, higher pay, etc. What is really at stake, however, is a person’s ability, through education, to place himself or herself in the position to do something meaningful with his or her life. Again, this is not necessarily tied to the amount one earns, but is more a matter of personal satisfaction and contribution to family, community, etc.

  32. traezer says:

    So, Im in the top 5th for education, but bottom 5th for income. Blah! Of course, Im in grad school right now with a little admin job to pay the bills, so hopefully in a year or two I can get my income up in the middle class range.

  33. Snakeophelia says:

    I was just coming in here to recommend Fussell’s “Class”, and Eyebrows McGee (great name!) beat me to it. A fascinating read.

  34. MercuryPDX says:

  35. mac-phisto says:

    personally, i define class in only two classes: working class & non-working class, defined as those who actually work for a living & those who sit on their asses.

    interestingly, the non-working class wraps a stranglehold around the working class using my definition.

  36. Prince of Zemunda says:

    Age should definitely be a factor. I’m in the boat with others as I have a Masters (putting me in the top 5th) but I don’t earn that much because I have to build experience. Also I am a new homeowner and have the student loan curse over me too. College is great but definitely not everything. My friend works for a pest control company and his g/f for a real estate company and they earn more (about 20k net) then my wife and me. The difference…My wife and I have a total of 3 degrees and they have nothing but HS diplomas. Plus we have more debt from student loans.

  37. AcidReign says:

    …..I was hoping to score a bit lower than I did, actually. Evidently, a blue-collar manufacturing manager didn’t fit into their equation. I hit 49th percentile on Management/all other categories.

    …..”Some college” (majored in beer, and Dungeons and Dragons) puts you in upper middle class? That seems skewed!

    …..If you put your house and 401-k in the wealth calculation, you’ll be a noble every time…

  38. lpranal says:

    @justinph

    I think alot of that has to do with the relative glut of “designers” (or designer wannabes) out there vs. the actual number of decent design jobs. I think there’s an old joke at the college i graduated from that goes something like:

    “The engineering major asks ‘how’, the sociology major asks ‘why’, and the art major asks ‘do you want fries with that’”

    its important to remember, though, that these surveys were taken of new york times readers (or, at least BY the times). So you have to take the subjective questions with a grain of salt.

  39. zolielo says:

    83 for me

  40. Chicago7 says:

    @joyflop:

    Me, too!

    :D

  41. deltasleep says:

    @ElizabethD:
    Because you think “who doesn’t go to college these days,” you’re middle class.:)

  42. VA_White says:

    It is easy to dismiss the priviledge a college education gives you. I live in a state where over 25% of students drop out of high school. There is a yawning cultural, educational, and economic chasm between me – a college-educated computer geek – and a reservation kid who never made it past ninth grade.

    People who say they’ve never met anyone who didn’t expect to go to college live insulated lives of unfathomable wealth compared to the truly poverty-stricken. You don’t know any uneducated people because the bubble of your world does not overlap theirs.

  43. JohnMc says:

    I have to ask a serious question. Are the folks here worried about their ‘class’, the craziest idea right out of DasKapital, or their aspirations? I would rather be a poor person with aspirations to be better than that than somebody worried about their ‘class’ in society.

    If you are worried about your class, please go next door. I have not time for such foolishness from you. {In a kind manner}

  44. cgmaetc says:

    In the words of the great Chapelle, “I’m rich, beyatch!”

  45. Client Support Administrator for the US Air Force:

    Occupation Top Fifth
    Education: Middle
    Income: Bottom Fifth
    Wealth: Lower Middle

  46. zibby says:

    The “occupation” measure is pretty damned subjective if you ask me. And wrong. Paralegal is almost top fifth in prestige? I’m not picking on paralegals – hell, I was one but maybe I was lousy because I sure as hell didn’t feel like king of the world – but a lot of those are out of whack. If you assume that job prestige can be measured so specifically, that is, which I kinda don’t.

  47. jgkelley says:

    @mac-phisto: So does everybody who reads Marx. It’s a bit more unclear these days, but amen to the sentiment.

  48. ahwannabe says:

    I don’t even wanna know. It’s too depressing.

  49. Havok154 says:

    I don’t see how a job that “sounds good” is worth anything. Then again, I guess that’s why people make up the most absurd names for their meaningless jobs. Stuff like, “technical coordinator of retail sales and performance”. In other words, that person is a sales manager at some retail store. (Not a bad thing, but for the sake of humility, call it what it is)

  50. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Computer support specialist for an oil-business-related company.
    Occupational Prestige: Top Fifth
    Education: Middle (Two years of college, no degree)
    Income: Above average (around 50K)
    Wealth: Lower Middle (I live in an apartment)

    Total percentile score: 64th

    If there was a way to count the fact that I do not use credit cards or consumer debt, do not have a student loan, and I bought my car with cash, would this go up?

    I also am planning to become a mechanical engineer, which is (very suprisingly) lower prestige and (surprisingly) a little lower pay, but I would have a college degree, so it might or might not even out.

  51. chazmanT says:

    This is interesting, but I think they could refine the methodology. After all, one of the things about class is that it tends to be those who are in the highest ranking class that get to define what it means for everyone else. Thus, after running the analysis through once, they could do it again, but with highest weight on the occupation opinion given to those who are in the top quintile.

    Perhaps even more interesting would be to break down the occupation question results based on class – we could see what the different perceptions of who is upper/middle/lower class based on those who are in those appropriate categories.

  52. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Are the folks here worried about their ‘class’, the craziest idea right out of DasKapital, or their aspirations?

    I thought it was an interesting exercise that did me a lot of good. I was brought up solidly middle-class with middle-class expectations, and wasn’t prepared for real-world problems when I left home. After falling hard and being homeless for about a month, I got terrified and wound up with “bag lady syndrome” (when you’re constantly and pathologically afraid of losing everything you have, you think people are on the take from you all the time, and you become a workaholic out of sheer fear).

    Because I’m 40 and I still don’t have a house and I’m so afraid bad things are going to happen, I’m a bit psycho. I don’t want to use consumer debt; I don’t even want a car loan or a mortgage; I used to put up with a horrible job because I wasn’t sure how soon I could find another one. I never had kids because I never thought I could give them a good enough life.

    The results of this chart shocked me. I never had the feeling I was doing OK. I really needed to be told that.

  53. nan says:

    I’m rich, bitch! I didn’t expect to rank so high in the percentiles as I did. Who knew I could have been snobbier to everyone all this time?! ;)

    I do wonder if location and age should also be a determining factor in this.

  54. Carson Daly says:

    Mehhhh:

    Occupation: 36th percentile
    Education: 55th
    Income: 3rd
    Wealth: 25th
    AVERAGE: 30th

    I should resort to hard drugs now, no?

    And they were being generous with the education portion. Sure, I completed some college, but I also have a GED.

  55. @zibby: “Paralegal is almost top fifth in prestige?”

    Perhaps it’s rising in prestige because it’s getting more and more difficult to find paralegals that don’t suck, and law firms are starting to pay big bucks for competent paralegals? (Since all the women who became paralegals before women started going to law schools in large numbers are now retiring, so the paralegal profession has a much higher percentage of “couldn’t get in to law school” or “just doing this a few years as a stop to law school” rather than really talented career paralegals — who are worth GOLD.)

    @Havok154: “I don’t see how a job that “sounds good” is worth anything.”

    Because CLASS IS NOT ABOUT MONEY! Class is about a complex set of cultural expectations and practices that tend to be correlated to money, but money is not the sole determiner of class. (There’s a reason certain East Coast magazines loooooove to refer to Paris Hilton’s mother as a “jumped-up middle-class harridan” or “trailer trash with cash,” and it’s precisely BECAUSE money does not make you classy.)

    Prestigious jobs are the ones that tend to be associated with people in the upper classes of society; they are not necessarily the ones that pay best (although most of the ones that pay best are up there in prestige as well). In those jobs, you will tend to interact with other members of the upper classes of society, even if your particular job doesn’t pay well, and that opens many doors for you and your children.

    Class is about things like how you deal with someone rude at a party, and whether you care which fork to use at a formal dinner (don’t care? You grew up high-middle-class or above, so you’re not concerned that making errors in perceived upper-class manners will mark you as lacking in class; aggressively don’t care? You grew up in a family with some class anxiety and express it by rejecting signifiers of class as stupid or pointless). Class is about whether and what kinds of extracurriculars you enroll your child in. Class is about whether you participate in politics — and when you do, whether you just vote or whether politicians talk to you. Class is about how you interact with “authority figures” like a family doctor or a family lawyer. (Money is about whether you can afford them!)

  56. Her Grace says:

    Based solely on my being part-way through a Master’s, I’m ranked 40th percentile. I do mean solely–I have a simple part time office job and little to no savings at this point. But being educated makes me higher class? I guess to a degree–as Eyebrows pointed out, having come from a family (actually more lower-middle to true-middle class) that expected college, I have an advantage over many people my age. But I certainly feel pretty poor. Then again, my age group isn’t qualified for the chart–at 22, I’m too young.

  57. AcidReign says:

    …..Job prestige is weird. Years ago, I quit a “chef” job, and got one in “labor pool” in a manufacturing plant. It was a BIG drop in “class,” but I was making two dollars an hour more!