Sociology Index


Middle Class

The middle class is placed in the middle of a social hierarchy. There have been several different approaches to defining the term middle class. In Karl Marx's analysis of class, the middle class is the petite bourgeoisie who are in small scale independent business or craft or who have special skills that provide an income outside the wage system of employed labour. The middle class can also be used statistically to define a group of individuals who occupy an intermediate position in a society's income strata. The school, for example, rests on the middle class values of reading and writing and the teachers are primarily middle class. In capitalism, "middle-class" was initially referred to as bourgeois class. With the further differentiation of classes in the course of development of capitalist societies, the term came to be synonymous with the term petite bourgeoisie. The middle class are those individuals who orient themselves to the values and expectations they consider normative for average members of their society, which is also called middle class values. These are attempts to define the middle class objectively, by some standard of measurement.

Social theorists, and economists have defined the term "middle class" in order to serve political ends. There is ambiguity over the meaning of the term "middle class" in American usage. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert and Joseph Kahl see this American self-described "middle class" as the most populous class in the United States. The term "middle class" is used as a self-description by those persons whom academics and Marxists would identify as the working class which are below both the upper class and the true middle class, but above those in poverty. Comfort is a key concept to the middle class. Middle-class people work hard and live fairly comfortable lives. Upper-middle-class people tend to pursue careers that earn comfortable incomes. They provide their families with large homes and nice cars. They may go skiing or boating on vacation. Their children receive quality educations (Gilbert, 2010).


A phrase "middle-class measuring rod" suggesting that children and young people from the lower class often find themselves in situations in which they are measured against middle class standards. The "middle-class measuring rod" is applied to all children in American society, but some reject it. Many working-class boys are inadequately prepared for either the educational demands or the discipline of formal education. As a result they perform poorly, and are evaluated accordingly, in terms of the "middle-class measuring rod" found in elementary and secondary schools.

Many people call themselves middle class, but there are differing ideas about what that means. People with annual incomes above $150,000 call themselves middle class, as do people who annually earn just $30,000. That is the reason why some sociologists divide the middle class into upper middle class and lower middle class subcategories. These divisions are based on gradations of status defined by levels of education, types of work, cultural capital, and the lifestyles afforded by income.

Upper-middle-class people tend to hold bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees in subjects such as business, management, law, or medicine that lead to occupations in the professions. Lower-middle-class members hold bachelor’s degrees or associate’s degrees from two-year community or technical colleges that lead to various types of white collar, service, administrative, or paraprofessional occupations.

In the lower middle class, people hold jobs supervised by members of the upper middle class. They fill technical, lower-level management or administrative support positions. Compared to traditional working-class work, lower-middle-class jobs carry more prestige and come with slightly higher paycheques.