Nearly half of Americans earning $100,000 or more think they're middle class — and it shows that class in America isn't just about money

Edward Berthelot/Getty ImagesWealth is all relative, especially when it comes to class.

Class in America isn’t just about money.

A recent survey by INSIDER and Morning Consult, which polled 4,400 Americans, asked respondents to define their financial situations by selecting poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or affluent (or don’t know) – and how they identified classwise didn’t always align with how much they earn annually.

For example, some six-figure earners consider themselves poor. While roughly 86% of those who think they’re poor earn less than $US50,000, 2% of those who identify as such earn more than $US100,000, and about 10% of them earn between those two numbers. On the opposite side, there are the 17% of respondents who said they’re affluent but earn less than $US50,000. Nearly half of those respondents earn $US100,000 or more, and about 34% of them earn between $US50,000 and $US100,000.

But the class with the biggest difference in income levels is the middle class – 36% earns less than $US50,000, 18% earns $US100,000, and about 50% earns $US50,000 to $US100,000.

Read more: More than one-third of millennials earning at least $US100,000 a year consider themselves middle class

That’s how much money those in certain classes earn annually; flipping this, we also looked at how those in certain income brackets identify their class. Most notably, nearly 42% of those earning $US100,000 or more think they’re middle class – around 36% of them think they’re upper middle class, and only 6% of those respondents think they’re affluent.

Class and wealth differ because of a shrinking middle class, increased living costs, and debt

These findings show that class and wealth aren’t the same and both are relative – some can earn less and still feel rich, while others can earn more and feel that they’re struggling financially.

There’s also the fact that America’s middle class is shrinking, according to the Pew Research Center, and that an increase in wages hasn’t kept up with an exponential increase in the cost of living, according to research by Student Loan Hero.

Debt levels might also explain why some respondents’ income levels seem off from the class they think they’re in – if they were earning a lot of money but putting it toward debt (or overspending, which can lead to some kinds of debt in the first place), they may not necessarily feel rich.

About 70% of the working class has credit-card debt, and roughly 65% of both the poor and the middle class do, compared with slightly more than half of both the upper middle class and the affluent.

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

Lower classes are also more likely to bear the weight of student loans. More than half of each the middle class, upper middle class, and affluent have never had student loans, compared with less than half of both the poor and the working class.

Of those who have student loans, more of the middle class, upper class, and affluent have paid them off than the working class and the poor. Of the latter two groups, more than 30% of each have student loans, compared with less than 20% of the middle class and 10% of both the upper middle class and the affluent.

Class and financial behaviour don’t differ as much

While respondents’ wealth levels don’t always align with class, their overall mindsets and financial behaviours do.

Those who identify as middle class or higher are more likely to have a four-year college degree, own a car, and own a home. Slightly more than a quarter of the poor own a home, while half of them rent – nearly three-quarters of the middle-class respondents own a home (about 20% rents), and nearly 86% of the affluent own a home with less than 10% renting.

It makes sense, then, that the lower down in the class ranks you get, the more likely it is that people don’t expect to ever own a home. Nearly half of the poor and working class don’t expect to own a home, compared with nearly 37% of the middle class and the upper middle class and 9% of the affluent.

In other expectations, more of the poor expect to never retire, while more of the affluent expect to retire at a younger age – by 55. And the higher the class, the more likely they are to think they’re financially faring better off than they thought they’d be 10 years ago.

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