So while reading a book the other day, it noted that despite the common usage of the term ‘middle class’ there is no definition. So of course I did a little Google of that fact and the author was entirely correct. I came across many definitions of income ranges trying to lock down what exact is middle class.
Then I came across one idea that I liked. Take the median family income in a given country and +/- 40% that is the middle class. In Canada for 2012, the median family income was $74,540 per year. Adding our range of +/- 40% results in a the middle class being from a family income of $44,724 to $104,356 per year. That is a broad range that covers a huge number of families in Canada so I think it could easily work as a passing definition.
Yet what stuck me the most about those numbers was despite considering myself middle class for the majority of my life I in fact likely never been a part of it. Growing up I always knew we weren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time we never had expensive cars, overly nice houses or only bought a run down tiny cabin as a vacation property when I was in university. So I never felt very well off either. Yet looking at those values and doing a bit of an inflation adjustment, I was forced to conclude I grew up above the middle class. Now that I’ve grown up and I have my own family that has largely continued. Ironically other than a few of the early years of my career, our family income was also above that upper end of the middle class range.
Of course the problem of making a definition dependent on income is it ignores the fact I don’t spend the majority of my income. Instead we save the majority of it and we spend on average a little under $30,000 per year, which of course is under the lower end of that range. So which is it – am I’m under the middle class or over it?
In the end, the answer doesn’t matter. Middle class is a way of referring to the majority of the people, not the upper class or even the poor. It’s merely the bulk of the people who are trying to get through life. It’s somewhat of a fiction which becomes useful to the political class since they can refer to the majority and allow even those on the edges to include themselves if they want. Sort of like I have for most of my life.
Yet as we continue to save for early retirement I also become more aware that I have less and less in common with the middle class. I don’t kiss ass or cower to those in a higher position than me at work. I don’t fear losing my job since I have a decade of spending cash saved up. I don’t try to blend in with my neighbours and I certainly don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. In short, I do what I want because I want to…nothing more and nothing less.
So I’m not middle class, but I’m not sure what label to us anymore and I’m not sure I even really care. Labels are at best a crude picture of a person…a stick figure that lacks any meaningful detail. So perhaps the answer is just be myself and let others call me what they will.
Do you ever worry what class you are? Why or why not?