The 5 general categories of class are lower, working, middle, upper middle, and upper class. The upper middle class is made up of the highest-income earning members of the middle class.
The upper middle class are able to get high paying jobs because they have the highest level of education, and they tend to have a skill set that other people do not have. They tend to occupy white-collar jobs, have university degrees, have comfortable houses with mortgages, go on holiday yearly, and drive nice cars. In other words, they’re generally positive beneficiaries of a capitalist social structure.
Upper Middle-Class Definition
A majority of sociologists determine a person’s social class by factors such as wealth, income, education, and occupation.
The upper middle class can be most easily identified by two factors: income and education level.
Sociologist Lamont (1994) suggests that the upper middle class “share distinctive tastes and lifestyles that act as status markers.”(p.3). In the interviews he conducted amongst 160 college graduate professionals, managers, and businessmen, he found that moral (work ethic, embrace of personal integrity), socioeconomic (professional success, wealth), and cultural (education, IQ, manners) boundaries often set the upper middle class apart from the middle and lower classes in society (Lamont, 1994, pp.3-6).
Upper Middle-Class Lifestyle Examples
- Professional Jobs: They have a high salary in a specialized field of work.
- Invested in Real Estate: They are not heavily invested in the stock market; they invest in real estate.
- Home Ownership: They tend to be homeowners, and not pay rent monthly.
- Excellent Health: They have better health quality, and statistically a longer average lifespan, than the majority of society who occupy lower-ranked classes.
- University Educated: They tend to possess advanced educational degrees and certifications.
- Education is Highly Valued: They put high value and emphasis on university for their children.
- Movers and Shakers: They tend to shape public opinion. For example, they promote causes like environmentalism, anti-smoking, and other social movements.
- Autonomous Workers: They have autonomy at their workplace, more free-time, and can make their own decisions at work without taking directions directly from a manager.
- Financial Security: They tend to not fear and feel more secure in periods of economic downturn, corporate downsizing, or corporate outsourcing. They have financial security.
- Rising Social and Cultural Capital: They are increasingly rubbing shoulders with people in positions of moderate power and wealth (a feature of social capital), and aim to achieve degrees from elite universities (a feature of cultural capital).
Traits of the Upper Middle Class
1. High salary in a specialized field of work
Some examples of specialized fields of work for the upper middle class include: dentists, engineers, high rank university professors, architects, law professionals, small to mid-size company CEOs, or ranking government official.
The upper middle class often hold positions in society with skill sets that requires advanced qualifications.
According to Reeves (2022) the upper middle class in America comprise around the top 15-20 % of the working population, and have an age range from 35-40 years old (para. 9-11).
From a global perspective, “In percentage terms, most people were either low income (51%) or poor (10%), while nearly 15% lived at an upper-middle-income standard and 7% were high income.”(Kochnar, 2021, para.2).
Upper middle class household incomes exceed $100,000 dollars, and can range as high as a $450,000.
2. Good health and a long average lifespan
When you have more access to disposable income, you in turn have more access to healthy foods, gym facilities, better hospitals, and quality healthcare.
This gives someone earning an upper middle-class income easier access to a healthier lifestyle. This is also reflected by a report issued by the World Health Organizations (WHO) stating “upper-class individuals tend to have better health-related quality of life”(Wingen, Englich, et al., 2020, p.1984).
In fact, social psychologist, Antony Manstead found that upper-middle-class people were associated with less risk of becoming sick because of the differences in quantity and quality of sleep, in comparison to lower-class people.
Lower-class people tended to have greater stress levels, and these levels of stress led to more illness. He asserted that lower class people have a “greater level of threat, as reflected in less security in employment, housing, personal safety, and health”(Manstead, 2018, p. 271).
3. Real estate investors
People with an upper-middle-class income use money as a tool to help them build more wealth. They do this through investing in real estate.
Real estate may include: buying houses and re-selling them, or even buying apartments, renovating them, and then renting or re-selling them.
While the elite and upper class may invest in businesses and stocks, upper middle-class people tend to have most of their wealth held in their own personal homes and related investment properties. The tangibility of this investment makes it an attractive investment vehicle for people who are professionals by day, and who seek a stable place to park their money.
4. Emphasis on university for their children
Those who grow up in middle‐ or upper‐class environments are likely to have more educational resources available than their lower middle-class counterparts (Manstead, 2018, pp. 275-285).
Moreover, as journalist Ferguson (2017) notes “research suggests it is the wealth and inclination of parents, rather than the ability and efforts of the child, that have the most bearing on a child’s educational success today”(para. 11).
The upper middle class understand this concept, and put great emphasis on their children being properly educated. They want to provide an environment with the most material and resources, so that their children will be more successful, and they have the money make sure that this happens. In fact, according to statistica (2022) 87% of young people from upper middle-class homes went on to attend college or university after high school.
5. Autonomy at their workplace
In a 2020 academic journal, Researchers found that “the extent to which workers are free to decide autonomously about their work hours has strong effects on their well-being.” (Wielers & van der Meer, 2020, p. 115).
This means that if people have a decision over how they work during the day, they are happier with in the jobs that they do from day to day. Although not all jobs offer autonomy, many jobs occupied by the upper middle class do.
Some examples of these are: software engineer, professor, scientific researcher, product manager, and a company CEO. More autonomy in the workplace, ultimately means a better work-life balance, which can be a great benefit to someone who values their free time.
The social group known as the upper middle class have specific traits and characteristics that set it apart from other social classes. Although members of the upper middle class do not share in the luxurious lifestyles of the ultra-wealthy and famous, they tend to live a healthier and more relaxed life due to financial stability. That financial stability is derived from their ability to work in high paying jobs, and ensure that their children also attain high paying jobs through a college/university education.
Ferguson, D. (2017, November 27). ‘Working-class children get less of everything in education – including respect.’ The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/nov/21/english-class- system-shaped-in-schools
Kochhar, R. (2021, August 16). Are you in the global middle class? Find out with our income calculator. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/21/are-you-in-the-global-middle-class-find-out-with-our-income-calculator/
Lamont, M. (1994). Money, Morals, and Manners: The Culture of the French and the American Upper-Middle Class (Morality and Society Series) (1st ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Manstead, A. S. R. (2018). The psychology of social class: How socioeconomic status impacts thought, feelings, and behaviour. British Journal of Social Psychology, 57(2), 267–291. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjso.12251
Reeves, R. V. (2022, March 9). The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-dangerous-separation-of-the-american-upper-middle-class/
Statista. (2022, January 14). College enrollment rate in the U.S. from by family income quartile 2000-2019. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/782387/college-enrollment-by-family-income-quartile-us/
Wingen, T., Englich, B., Estal-Muñoz, V., Mareva, S., & Kassianos, A. P. (2020). Exploring the Relationship between Social Class and Quality of Life: the Mediating Role of Power and Status. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 16(5), 1983–1998. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-020-09853-y
Wielers, R., & van der Meer, P. H. (2020). Beyond Income: Why We Want to Keep on Working Even if We Don’t Need the Money. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 16(4), 1613–1635. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-020-09834-1