Americans living in suburbs tend to consider themselves middle class, but most city-dwellers can't say the same

Westend61/Getty ImagesMany city dwellers don’t feel part of the middle class, according to an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey.
  • More than half of city-dwellers consider themselves poor or working class, according to a recent INSIDER and Morning Consult survey.
  • Meanwhile, more than half of those living in suburban areas identify as some level of middle class.
  • While these two groups are fairly financially similar otherwise, these findings reflect three of the biggest differences between city- and suburban-dwellers: demographics, cost of living, and lifestyle.
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More than half of those living in cities consider themselves poor or working class, according to a recent survey by INSIDER and Morning Consult, which polled 4,400 Americans. Of the total respondents, 1,107 said they live in an urban area and 1,901 said they live in a suburban area.

Of those who responded, only 37% of city-dwellers consider themselves middle class or upper middle class. In contrast, more than half of those living in suburban areas think they’re middle class or upper middle class – around 14% said they’re poor and roughly 27% said they’re working class.

According to many of the survey responses, those living in the city and those living in the suburbs are otherwise pretty similar financially – but their class identifications reflect the three key differences between them: demographics, cost of living, and lifestyle.

City-dwellers are younger and earn less

Those living in urban areas tend to take home less money, according to the survey. Nearly 60% of those living in cities make less than $US50,000; nearly 30% earn between $US50,000 and $US100,000 and only 11% earn more than $US100,000. In the suburbs, a little less than half earn less than $US50,000, 34% bring home between $US50,000 and $US100,000, and nearly 20% make more than $US100,000.

The difference in income levels may be attributed to the fact that urban areas are home to younger residents, who likely aren’t as far along in their careers. Around 42% are Gen Z or millennials (aged 18 to 37) and roughly 33% are baby boomers (age 54 and up). That’s compared to 30% of Gen Z and millennials and nearly 44% of boomers living in suburban areas. Roughly a quarter of Gen Xers (age 38 to 53) live in both areas.

Read more: Nearly half of indebted millennials say college wasn’t worth it, and the reason why is obvious

Considering that more millennials than boomers have student loans, the larger share of millennials in urban areas may explain why more city-dwellers have student loans – and why they might feel poor. Around 31% of city-dwellers are currently paying off their student loans, compared to 21% of those living in the suburbs. More than half of the latter have never even had student loans, compared to less than half of city-dwellers.

Student loan debt has made it harder for younger generations to build wealth. They also haven’t had as much time to build wealth as boomers, who typically characterise the suburban area.

Cities have seen hikes in cost of living

It’s even more difficult to save in cities, which have become increasingly expensive. A big cost of living increase has hit America’s middle class particularly hard in cities like Sacramento and Houston, according to GoBankingRates.

Urban residents may be more inclined to feel they’re not part of the middle class because many don’t own a home – nearly half are renters, compared to a little more than a quarter of suburban residents, according to the survey. Around 61% of those living in the suburbs own a home.

This is a reflection of both city lifestyle and living costs –rents have increased by 46% from the 1960s to 2000 when adjusted for inflation, according to Student Loan Hero. The current median US rent, according to Zillow, is $US1,650.

Read more: Rent in cities like NYC and San Francisco is so expensive that it’s pricing people out of the real-estate market, and some of them are turning to houseboats instead

Homeownership and car ownership usually go hand – it makes sense then, that more of those living in the suburbs than the city own a car. Suburban-dwellers also spend slightly more on transportation – more than half spend $US100 to $US250 a month and only a quarter spend less than $US50 a month, compared to 30% of those living in urban areas.

This finding mirrors city lifestyle – residents are more able to get around by walking, riding a bike, or using public transport than suburban residents, who need to pay for gas for daily commutes.

The city lifestyle creates tighter budgets

Faced with higher costs of living and student loan debt, city residents may be more inclined to budget on discretionary spending. For example, they save more than suburban residents when eating out, even though urban areas typically offer more dining options.

More than half of the those living in suburban areas spend $US50 to $US250 eating out a month, compared to roughly 46% of city-dwellers. Nearly 37% of urbanites spend less than $US50 eating out a month, compared to roughly 32% of suburban residents.

It’s not surprising considering that some city residents need more money just to buy essentials. When asked how they would spend an extra $US1,000, those living in both urban and suburban areas prioritised using it to pay debt, save, and invest – but more of those living in urban areas would use it to purchase necessities.

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