Americans are considerably less likely now than they were in 2008 and years prior to identify themselves as middle class or upper-middle class, while the percentage putting themselves in the working or lower class has risen.
Currently, 51 percent of Americans say they are middle class or upper-middle class, while 48 percent say they are lower class or working class. In multiple surveys conducted from 2000 through 2008, an average of more than 60 percent of Americans identified as middle or upper-middle class.
Gallup began asking this five-part social class question in 2000. In that year, and at several points since, a high of 63 percent of Americans identified as either upper-middle or middle class. The average percentage placing themselves in the two middle-class categories between 2000 and 2008 was 61 percent.
Gallup didn’t ask the question between 2009 and 2011, but in 2012 and again this year, the combined middle-class percentage dropped significantly, to 50 percent and 51 percent, respectively. On the other hand, the percentage of Americans identifying as working and lower class rose to 47 percent and 48 percent, up from a low of 33 percent in 2000.
There are many ways researchers measure subjective social class. This particular question gives Americans five categories from which to choose. Just 1 percent of Americans say they are upper class, with the rest spread out in Gallup’s April 9-12 survey across upper-middle (13 percent), middle (38 percent), working (33 percent) and lower (15 percent) class categories.
The detailed trends are displayed at the end of this article. Questions which ask respondents to choose only between upper, middle and lower class categories find a larger percentage in the middle-class category than is the case with the five-category measure.
Across all major demographic and political subgroups, identification as middle class or upper-middle class has declined since 2008. In particular, the drop in middle-/upper-middle-class identification by income category has been fairly consistent, between five and nine percentage points in each income group. Overall, even as middle-class identification has dropped across the board, Americans’ views of their social class have remained closely tied to their income, as would be expected.
Middle-class identification among those with college degrees has dropped less than it has among those with less education, and older and younger Americans have seen less change in their identification with the middle or upper-middle class than Americans between the ages of 30 and 64. Republicans are more likely to identify as middle class than Democrats, but both groups have seen roughly even drops in identification with the middle class across time.
Americans have become less likely to identify as middle class since 2008 and earlier years. One possible explanation focuses on changes in the job market. A big downshift in middle-class identification is found among those with less than a college education, suggesting that increasingly fewer “middle-class” jobs may be available for those without college educations.