Stable identification of the middle class in the United States

Story Highlights

  • 38% say they belong to the middle class; 14% say they belong to the upper middle class
  • Most others identify as working class or lower class
  • Middle-class identification remains weaker than before the Great Recession

WASHINGTON, DC — About half of American adults consider themselves middle class, including 38% who identify as “middle class” and 14% as “upper middle class.” Most of the rest describe themselves as ‘working class’ (35%) or ‘lower class’ (11%), with relatively few, 2%, identifying as ‘upper class’.

The identification of the middle class and the upper middle class remains lower than it was before the Great Recession. Since then, Americans are more likely to identify themselves as working class or lower class.


Gallup has included the identification of social class in 10 of its annual economics and personal finance surveys, which are conducted each April. The latest data comes from a poll from April 1-19. Gallup asks Americans which of the five named social classes they think they belong to. Social class names are not defined for respondents.

Between 2002 and 2005, at least six in 10 American adults considered themselves to be middle or upper class. But middle-class identification has not reached that level in the years since, including 2012 and 2015, when roughly equal proportions identified as working-class or lower compared to the middle or upper class.

In 2018, the percentage of people who considered themselves middle class exceeded the combined working and lower class group by double digits – 55% middle/upper middle class and 42% working/lower class. lower. The gap narrowed to six percentage points (from 52% to 46%) in the two most recent surveys.

Identification with social class has remained stable between 2019 and 2022, even though Americans’ ratings on their personal finances and the US economy have deteriorated significantly over this period.

Decline in apparent middle class identification in most subgroups

The Great Recession seems to have changed the way Americans view their social class. On average, middle and upper middle class identification among American adults was nine points lower after 2008 (52%) than it was before (61%). Meanwhile, identification with working class and lower class rose by the same amount, from an average of 36% to 45%. A steady 2% identified as upper class in both periods.

These trends in identifying social class are apparent among most key demographic subgroups. Notable exceptions are older adults (55+), Democrats, and college-educated Americans, all of whom showed no significant change in social class identification between the two time periods.

Two subgroups — middle-aged adults and people of color — show an above-average decline in middle-class identification. Since the Great Recession, the percentage of Americans aged 35 to 54 who identify as middle class or upper middle class has declined by 15 points (from 62% to 47%), and the percentage of people of color who do dropped 16 points (from 54% to 38%).


The decline in middle-class identification among Republicans and the lack of change among Democrats now places the two groups on an equal footing, while Republicans were more likely to identify with the middle class. Prior to 2012, 71% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats identified with the middle class. Today, the figures are 60% and 55% respectively.

Independents – who were similar to Democrats before the Great Recession – are now the political group least likely to identify with the middle class, with 46% doing so, down from 57% before 2012.

In general, identification with social class is strongly linked to level of education and household income. High-income Americans and college graduates (including those with a college education) are the most likely to say they are middle or upper class, while low-income Americans and those without no formal education beyond high school generally identify as active or inferior. to classify.

Older Americans and those who are married are also more likely than others to identify with the middle class.


The term “middle class” is heard a lot in political campaigns and discussions of economic policy. While most Americans probably live in households that are somewhat close to the median income level in the United States, a smaller number than before consider themselves members of the middle class. More than before now see themselves as working class or even lower class.

Earlier analysis by Gallup suggested that the terms “working class” and “middle class” may mean different things to working and nonworking Americans. The analysis revealed that many more retired Americans than non-retirees consider themselves to be middle class. Some Americans may see the question more as an indicator of their employment status than their socioeconomic status, and retired Americans may be reluctant to consider themselves “working class” because they don’t work. not currently.

The trend was less clear in previous Gallup polls, with only slightly more retired (66%) than non-retired (60%) Americans identifying as middle class between 2002 and 2008. In recent years, the gap has widened, with 66% of retired and 48% of non-retired Americans identifying with the middle class. Non-retired Americans are now about as likely to say they are working class (49%) as middle class.

The decline in middle-class identification could then indicate that Americans are less familiar with the concept of social class than they were in the past. It could also be that Americans are familiar with the term, but many working Americans today do not see their work endeavors as producing enough income for them to believe they have achieved middle class status.

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Post expires at 3:11pm on Thursday June 23rd, 2022