- Middle-class America is shrinking.
- A recent INSIDER and Morning Consult survey took a look at the differences between America’s middle class and affluent.
- Two clear divides emerged along traditional markers of wealth: homeownership and retirement savings.
- The middle class has more debt to pay off, which makes it harder to save – as a result, they’re not as prepared for retirement as the rich.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
America’s middle class is shrinking.
From 1971 to 2016, the size of middle-class America has decreased by nearly 10%, according to the Pew Research Center. And from 2010 to 2016, the wealth of people in the middle class didn’t increase at the higher rate of the upper class, widening the income gap between the two groups.
So how does life differ between America’s middle class and America’s rich? A recent survey by INSIDER and Morning Consult took a look. The survey polled 4,400 Americans, including 1,364 who identified themselves as middle class and 79 who identified themselves as affluent.
While the latter group is a relatively small sample, its responses do highlight two traditional markers of wealth that set them apart from the middle class: homeownership and retirement savings.
The middle class has more non-mortgage debt, which may place homeownership further away
The majority of both groups are homeowners, but more of the middle class than the affluent is still renting. Of those who responded, slightly less than 40% of both groups are saving to buy a home – but 13% of the middle class doesn’t expect to ever own a home, compared to 9% of the rich.
The affluent shell out more for monthly housing costs. More than three-quarters of middle-class respondents spend less than $US2,500 on housing a month, compared with roughly half of the affluent – more than 35% spends over $US2,500 a month versus 7% of the middle class.
Homeownership may feel more out of reach – and monthly housing costs may have to be more affordable – for middle-class Americans because they have to allocate more money toward paying off debt.
According to the survey, about 62% of the middle class has credit-card debt, compared with roughly half of the affluent. That might explain why the latter has better credit scores – nearly 75% of affluent respondents have a credit score over 700, compared with half of the middle class.
The middle class also has more student-loan debt – nearly half have student loans, compared with 39% of the affluent. Of those that have taken out student loans, more of the middle class than the affluent are still working on paying them off.
The middle class isn’t as well-prepared for retirement
Having more student-loan and credit-card debt might be why the middle class isn’t as well-prepared for retirement as the affluent – more of whom expect to retire at an earlier age than the middle class. That might be because more are saving for retirement – 80% of the affluent respondents have a retirement account versus 63% of the middle class.
Of those with retirement accounts, more than half of the affluent respondents have $US100,000 saved, compared with about 30% of the middle class. And more than a quarter of the middle class isn’t putting aside money monthly for retirement, compared with less than a quarter of the affluent.
More affluent Americans also have brokerage accounts and trusts, but roughly the same percentage of both groups have savings accounts.
A greater need to save for retirement and to pay off debt explains how the middle class would use an extra $US1,000 – most would save it or use it to pay down debt. Meanwhile, most of the affluent would save or invest it – not surprising, considering that those building wealth tend to do so by using a simple investing strategy.
Affluent Americans are also more likely than the middle class to spend it on travel or shopping, showing a taste for indulgence that the middle class doesn’t necessarily have the budget for.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.