Author Topic: 9 ways to know if you're middle class  (Read 11121 times)

Bakari

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #50 on: December 14, 2012, 06:54:32 PM »
I think we're all having two different discussions here, though. Class and income are much less correlated than we think they are, especially in non-meritocratic societies.

But that depends on what type of class structure you are talking about. I would say most of this thread's discussion is in regards to the generally used three class system of lower/middle/upper class which really is by income when we are talking about current issues being talked in the media. When you go to a different class descriptions (like chucklesmcgee's above) then income becomes less correlated, but it is not the topic du jour at least in the US at the moment.


People tend to equate "high class" (classy, hoity toity, fancy pants folk), with "upper class" (higher income than average) and "low class" (hilly billies, hood rats, and trailer trash) with "lower class" (lower income than average).
And they tend to be correlated, but they are two different things.

Quote
I always liked the middle three quintiles to be considered the full middle class (then you can keep lower middle, middle, and upper middle).

You don't have to divide it by 5 to keep lower middle and upper middle.  You just sub-divide the middle third into thirds.
Then, if you want, you can also sub-divide upper and lower classes into lower upper, middle upper, upper upper, lower lower, middle lower, and higher lower.
By the numbers, I am higher lower.
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chucklesmcgee

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #51 on: December 17, 2012, 10:21:06 PM »
People tend to equate "high class" (classy, hoity toity, fancy pants folk), with "upper class" (higher income than average) and "low class" (hilly billies, hood rats, and trailer trash) with "lower class" (lower income than average).
And they tend to be correlated, but they are two different things.

Right, and that's exactly the point here. When we talk about class we talk about how one lives, one's type of work, perceived prestige, education and one's standards, attitudes, mindsets, habits and one's socioeconomic peers. Income has a large influence on class, but it's not the single deciding factor. As Americans we like to believe income level determines class absolutely and perhaps even that income level IS class because it reinforces our notion of a fluid and limitless upward social mobility.  But that's not the case. You can't group people together of identical incomes and expect them to necessarily identify as peers or have like attitudes. A white-trash big rig driver might make significantly more than a PhD graduate student, but the two will have almost nothing in common and the PhD student's going to more closely align with the values of ibankers or doctors or lawyers. A good plumber or HVAC repair guy can make 6 figures a year, but he'll be seen as lower class than say a computer programmer making the same or less as manual labor is usually high prole. A lawyer is far more likely to marry a poor dancer or an artist than a bus-driver or mail person or waitress.

There's no precise bright line as to who is what, but it's safe to say that delineating class soley based on income percentiles is obviously inappropriate.

Obviously there's no precise bright line here, but "9 ways to know if you're middle class" is discussing those habits of the middle class, not the middle-income segment. As Mustachians, we can see that our values align more closely with the upper classes despite having middle incomes. We can quibble forever about where certain cutoffs are for medium or high income (with the most passionate arguments usually being made to avoid our own income being placed too low to appear less respectful but not too high to appear pretentious), but in the end, class transcends income and even net worth.

makincaid

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #52 on: December 18, 2012, 07:24:16 AM »
Did anyone see this in the comments:


Reminds me of this: 1% Must Stop Insisting They Aren't Rich (http://gawker.com/5885705/the-top-1-must-stop-insisting-theyre-not-rich-right-this-instant)

"Rich is being able to take two or three months (or a year) off from whatever you do as a career, on a whim, and not have to worry about your income... or better yet, having a career entirely as a life choice, not a financial necessity.

Sorry, but $200k a year doesn't get you there, especially in big cities. "


I could easily take 2-3 months off and I've never made anything close to $200k. It's just a matter of being frugal and avoiding debt. High income is not required.

In fact, a lot of long-distance hikers work minimum wage jobs and still take 6months off of work every year.

ehgee

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #53 on: December 18, 2012, 09:00:39 AM »
I feel like "middle class" is too broad a term.  There's a big difference in what a $40k income household can afford and what a $100k income household can afford.

This is what I hate listening to politicians/people in general talk about this. Almost everyone I work with has a median household income over $100K, but consider themselves "middle class". That's the top 15%, with people with a spouse that makes a similar wage possibly being in the top 5%! Even $40K/year for a family would almost put them in the top half of the country, if one person most likely does. The 50th percentile to 95 percentile is one hell of a middle to me, they didn't teach me that math in statistics.

They way the term gets thrown around in the media really drowns out how well some people are off in comparison. There needs to be education to slap these people in the face with the reality that they are plenty well off and need to stop being whinypants.

Your point is well taken but it also ignores cost of living - so it cuts both ways - $100k in the northeast and california or for that matter just about any major or dense population/employment areas is not that much and is middle class and probably comparable to $50k in the midwest or south or such.  The majority of the difference can proabably be attributed to housing costs (and related taxes) but there are other things as well.  Median housing in the higher ares can easily be three times what it is in the other areas and because of that your income and down payment would have to be 2-3 times that to qualify. Yet people don't look at it this way.
The high "cost of living" is mostly the idiotically high cost of housing in NYC and coastal CA (I say as someone who lives in Brooklyn after moving from La Jolla), and it's mostly due to unduly restrictive development policies that make it impossible to build enough housing units for all of the people who want to live there. Beyond the cost of housing, it's quite cheap to live in NYC due to the ease of car-free living and fun free events, or coastal California, since awesome food is cheap because it's grown nearby, utility bills can be taken down near zero with ease, and some of the planet's best outdoor recreation is free for the taking.

Since the regulatory regime makes it hard to build enough housing in NYC or coastal CA, instead all the rich people have to bid up housing prices high enough that poor people move away and their units enter the market. Many of these poor folks move to the Sunbelt, where housing prices are more sensible, but energy usage and costs are higher due to auto-dependent development, big detached housing units, and harsher climates.

There's no reason that housing prices in the dense cities on the coasts have to be as high as they are. Ever price a condo in downtown Chicago, another dense city with extensive mass transit and tons of high-paying jobs? Here's a one bedroom in one of the city's most famous landmarks for under $180k:
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/300-N-State-St-APT-3929-Chicago-IL-60610/3863958_zpid/

You can also compare NYC rents to what they were in the 1943, when the population had exploded to more than twice of what it was in 1900 and all of the pre-war buildings were profitably being built and operated:
http://www.1940snewyork.com/
You can hardly get an apartment anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, other than maybe East New York, for the inflation-adjusted price of an apartment off Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village or a block in from Central Park, or on Broadway on the Upper West Side. My own 2-bedroom tenement apartment, decently remodeled but the same shape and size with the same mass transit access as in 1943, today costs $2100 (rent-stabilized and below market!), versus somewhere in the range of $640-$960 (inflation-adjusted) in 1943.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2012, 09:15:44 AM by ehgee »

chucklesmcgee

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #54 on: December 18, 2012, 12:23:22 PM »
There's no reason that housing prices in the dense cities on the coasts have to be as high as they are.

Well there is a limited amount of space in these locations. Certainly restrictive policies, but in the end, Manhattan is only so large and lots of people want to live there. Even in sprawling cities you have locations which are close to big business hubs and lots of high paid people are wiling to pay more to reduce commute costs and save time.

tooqk4u22

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #55 on: December 18, 2012, 02:31:21 PM »
There's no reason that housing prices in the dense cities on the coasts have to be as high as they are.

Well there is a limited amount of space in these locations. Certainly restrictive policies, but in the end, Manhattan is only so large and lots of people want to live there. Even in sprawling cities you have locations which are close to big business hubs and lots of high paid people are wiling to pay more to reduce commute costs and save time.

In addition to limited land area, even if the policies weren't as restrictive it still costs a lot - a high rise in Manhattan can cost over a $1000/sf to build in Brooklyn it is $600/sf where as a typical 3be single family home in the burbs would cost $75-150/sf.  Not to mention that many of these restrictions that have been put in place are driven by environmental impact or NIMBY mentality.

Bakari

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #56 on: December 18, 2012, 05:15:46 PM »
People tend to equate "high class" (classy, hoity toity, fancy pants folk), with "upper class" (higher income than average) and "low class" (hilly billies, hood rats, and trailer trash) with "lower class" (lower income than average).
And they tend to be correlated, but they are two different things.

Right, and that's exactly the point here. When we talk about class we talk about how one lives, one's type of work, perceived prestige, education and one's standards, attitudes, mindsets, habits and one's socioeconomic peers. Income has a large influence on class, but it's not the single deciding factor. As Americans we like to believe income level determines class absolutely and perhaps even that income level IS class because it reinforces our notion of a fluid and limitless upward social mobility.  But that's not the case. You can't group people together of identical incomes and expect them to necessarily identify as peers or have like attitudes. A white-trash big rig driver might make significantly more than a PhD graduate student, but the two will have almost nothing in common and the PhD student's going to more closely align with the values of ibankers or doctors or lawyers. A good plumber or HVAC repair guy can make 6 figures a year, but he'll be seen as lower class than say a computer programmer making the same or less as manual labor is usually high prole. A lawyer is far more likely to marry a poor dancer or an artist than a bus-driver or mail person or waitress.

There's no precise bright line as to who is what, but it's safe to say that delineating class soley based on income percentiles is obviously inappropriate.

Obviously there's no precise bright line here, but "9 ways to know if you're middle class" is discussing those habits of the middle class, not the middle-income segment. As Mustachians, we can see that our values align more closely with the upper classes despite having middle incomes. We can quibble forever about where certain cutoffs are for medium or high income (with the most passionate arguments usually being made to avoid our own income being placed too low to appear less respectful but not too high to appear pretentious), but in the end, class transcends income and even net worth.

Maybe things are different in other parts of the country, but I don't really see a computer programmer forbidding his daughter to marry a plumber that made 6 figures because he is of too low a social strata. 
I think the concept you are talking about is largely obsolete, but more to the point, even if it holds true ion general, it isn't the context that "middle class" is most frequently heard in media and politics.

When people talk about the economy hurting the middle class, or about preserving tax cuts for the middle class, they aren't talking about a group with a particular education level.  They are talking about income brackets.
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Mannerheim

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #57 on: December 28, 2012, 10:50:41 AM »
Maybe things are different in other parts of the country, but I don't really see a computer programmer forbidding his daughter to marry a plumber that made 6 figures because he is of too low a social strata. 
I think the concept you are talking about is largely obsolete, but more to the point, even if it holds true ion general, it isn't the context that "middle class" is most frequently heard in media and politics.

It's not that the parents would forbid the marriage (that doesn't really happen anymore), it's that a programmer wouldn't even meet a plumber since they'd be in totally different social circles. Social class is separated by education more than money these days; relatively poor (but highly-educated) people in academia or the arts might associate with wealthy lawyers or bankers, but are unlikely to hang out with affluent-but-uneducated tradesmen or truck drivers. That's all he's saying, and obviously there is thus an important distinction between social class and economic class which is tangential to the original article.

To the point of the original article, I note there is no figure given for how much balance sheet wealth one has, i.e. you could call yourself middle-class if you make $90k and live paycheck-to-paycheck with a mountain of credit card debt, whereas someone who makes $30k with no debt and $100k in savings isn't? Anyway, the easy availability of credit in America has made it very hard to tell who is really rich and who just spends a lot of money they don't have.

Jamesqf

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #58 on: December 28, 2012, 12:56:20 PM »
It's not that the parents would forbid the marriage (that doesn't really happen anymore), it's that a programmer wouldn't even meet a plumber since they'd be in totally different social circles. Social class is separated by education more than money these days; relatively poor (but highly-educated) people in academia or the arts might associate with wealthy lawyers or bankers, but are unlikely to hang out with affluent-but-uneducated tradesmen or truck drivers.

Sure they would.  Social circles, especially among the young, are driven more by what one does for recreation than anything else.  So you meet a cute person of the opposite sexual persuasion while you're out on the ski slope*, biking around, or even hanging out at the local dance club.  Your parents' occupations are not going to be the #1 subject of conversation :-)

*Where my friends' daughter met her rich lawyer husband, as a matter of fact :-)

BlueMR2

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #59 on: January 01, 2013, 04:58:29 PM »
Yes
No, don't even know where there is a Target around here
No, already went to college (without any debt) and no kids
No, what's a vacation?  Who has time off for that?
Yes
There's security these days?
Not even close.  I'm so far right that I can't see any material difference between Democrats and Republicans
Yeppers, as much as I can!

galaxie

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #60 on: January 02, 2013, 07:47:29 AM »
My husband & I do all of these things except the first one (too much money)... but that's not a surprise.  We had a conversation the other day about how we're moving into a different class from our families.  It's a weird feeling.  In a way, my mom aspires to be more like us.

frugalcalan

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #61 on: January 04, 2013, 10:13:42 AM »
It's not that the parents would forbid the marriage (that doesn't really happen anymore), it's that a programmer wouldn't even meet a plumber since they'd be in totally different social circles. Social class is separated by education more than money these days; relatively poor (but highly-educated) people in academia or the arts might associate with wealthy lawyers or bankers, but are unlikely to hang out with affluent-but-uneducated tradesmen or truck drivers.

Sure they would.  Social circles, especially among the young, are driven more by what one does for recreation than anything else.  So you meet a cute person of the opposite sexual persuasion while you're out on the ski slope*, biking around, or even hanging out at the local dance club.  Your parents' occupations are not going to be the #1 subject of conversation :-)

*Where my friends' daughter met her rich lawyer husband, as a matter of fact :-)

Maybe.  I'm from an upper middle class, white washed suburban town, and went to an expensive private engineering college.  Who do my relatives usually meet during their expensive yearly skiing vacation?  Other rich people.  Who did I meet at my college?  Mostly middle/upper middle class people, who will go on to have well paying engineering jobs.

I met my boyfriend through the internet, accidentally.  His friends are not well off (in fact, they are in debt) and it's honestly the first time I've really been exposed to this sort of thing.  I still mostly hang out with college and high school friends (a ton of them ended up in Chicago with me) and their friends.  A lot of the social activities I do (bicycling meetups, NPR-organized social events, sorority alumni events) don't really get me in a ton of contact with "the working class".

If it wasn't for his friends (his and their parents are scientologists, and they all met through the scientology organized boyscout troup.  Absurd, right?) it would probably take many more years for me to be acquainted with people who both come from a completely different background, and who live a completely different life (I have some friends who came from upper-middle class and now working at waitresses and such, and others who came from working class backgrounds and are now engineers, but I'm sorely lacking in both a "bad" background and a less sunny present)
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chucklesmcgee

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #62 on: January 06, 2013, 06:56:13 PM »
Social circles, especially among the young, are driven more by what one does for recreation than anything else.  So you meet a cute person of the opposite sexual persuasion while you're out on the ski slope*, biking around, or even hanging out at the local dance club.  Your parents' occupations are not going to be the #1 subject of conversation :-)

No, but income, education level and class will be highly predictive of recreational activities. The people you meet skiing, yatching, playing golf or squash, at Wimbledon or an opera, attending the Berkshire Hathaway annual conference, or at an equestrian event are overwhelmingly not going to be waitresses, maids, gardeners, truck drivers, plumbers, taxicab drivers, factory workers or meter maids. Who you meet at a bowling alley is going to be substantially different than the type of person who you meet paragliding or at an academic conference.  I can go on and on.

Class substantially impacts nearly every aspect of our lives: our background, our values, our education, our ideology, our hobbies, our social circles and our idiosyncrasies.

Jamesqf

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #63 on: January 06, 2013, 08:37:07 PM »
Berkshire Hathaway conferences, yes, there's a money/class thing there.  Golf?  Somewhat, especially at upscale courses, but there are a good many moderate-income golfers.  (The only serious golfer I know is a semi-retired truck driver.)

Skiing is quite egalitarian, at least for those of us who live in the mountains, and especially if you include cross-country, snowboarding, snowshoeing, &c.  Equestrian events depend on the sort of event.  If you're seriously into e.g. show jumping, yes, that can take serious money and run into snobbery territory real fast.  If you just like to ride, or do things like cross-country/endurance racing & mounted archery... Well, the two people I frequently ride with work as a payroll administrator and an EMT.  Other occasional companions are everything from nurses to schoolteachers.

It seems, though, that the real predictor on many of those things is not income, but age. How many young people play golf, or bowl?  (Though I think bowling must be a regional thing, too: where I grew up back east, I knew of quite a few adults who bowled.  Here in the west I don't think I've ever met anyone who does.)


Paul der Krake

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Re: 9 ways to know if you're middle class
« Reply #64 on: January 06, 2013, 09:18:04 PM »
There is definitely an income factor in most 'country club sports'. Not necessarily a dividing wall, after all people are free to do whatever they please in their free time, but it's there.

I play golf fairly regularly and it's always fun parking my ghetto car between a bentley and a mercedes, and I only play at vaguely luxurious courses. Even on those, there is a general courteous and mannered mood that makes it very different from a bowling alley. Same thing for tennis clubs.
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