If you had to place yourself in a socioeconomic class, where would you land? That’s a tricky and personal question for most Americans. Education, income, and even parental wealth can all factor into class status, but the borders of each group can still be hard to parse. That’s because socioeconomic class structure in the U.S. is a nebulous thing that can be as much about perception and comparison as it is about measurable metrics, like money.
One of the more common methods for identifying the "middle class" is to simply define it as the half of the population making more than the bottom quarter and less than the top quarter. In 2013, such rankings would consider households with income between about $24,000 to $90,000 middle class, based on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. With a more comprehensive wealth measure—taking into consideration not only income, but total assets and liabilities—this middle 50 percent of Americans covers an enormous range: families who have anywhere between about $9,000 to $317,000. Which is pretty crazy given the vastly different realities of families on either end of those spectrums.
In recent decades, researchers have started to incorporate more subjective and relative analysis into the question of class, asking people where they feel they fit in rather than assigning them to a group based on finances and education. Their responses are telling, providing a portrait of how Americans feel about the country's health and their own personal futures.