A middle class lifestyle is primarily defined by homeownership – not possessing two or more cars, taking vacations and regularly eating out, according to a recent survey by Millionaire Corner, which shows investors view owning a home as the key element of the American Dream and attach less significance to more superficial trappings associated with middle class life.
Our survey also reveals that perceptions of a middle class lifestyle vary somewhat by age, wealth and gender. The results help explain why Americans of all wealth levels identify with the middle class: The elusive concept means different things to different people.
Nearly 70 percent of investors participating in our survey identified homeownership – as opposed to renting - as the best definition of a middle class lifestyle. But the least affluent investors – those with less than $100,000 in investable assets – placed less stock in homeownership than did investors at higher wealth levels. Less than 65 percent of the least affluent identified homeownership as the best definition of middle class, compared to nearly 74 percent of individuals with $500,000 up to $1 million in investable assets. Younger investors – those younger than 40 – were much more likely that older investors to identify renting a home as the best definition of middle class.
Investors attached less significance to car ownership as a criterion for a middle class lifestyle. Less than 10 percent said owning one car - and less than 45 percent said owning more than one car - was the best definition of a middle class lifestyle.
Millionaires – individuals with investable assets of $1 million or more – placed the least significance on car ownership. Fifty-six percent said they did not view owning one or more cars as a criterion for defining the middle class. Men attach more importance than women to owning two or more cars, 48 percent vs. 40 percent respectively.
The number of vacations taken – one or less vs. two or more –did not rank as an important definition of the middle class lifestyle. About 22 percent of investors said taking one or no vacations per year best defined the middle class, and 37 percent said taking two or more vacations a year was a sign of the middle class, but more than 40 percent said they didn’t view the number of vacations taken as an important criteria of what it means to be middle class. Women are slightly more likely than men to see taking two or more vacations a year as the best definition of middle class, 39 percent vs. 36 percent, respectively.
The least affluent investors attach greater significance to being able to take more than one vacation per year. Nearly 65 percent identify taking two or more vacations – as opposed to one or no vacations – as the best definition of the middle class. But, more than half the investors age 60 and older said vacation status was not a criterion for defining the middle class.
The number of household incomes – one or two – figures even less significantly as a definition of the middle class. Just over half of survey participants said the number of income earners in a household was not a criterion for defining the middle class. About 8 percent said one-income best defined the middle class, while about 41 percent said a two-income household better met the criteria for middle class.
Half of the least affluent investors said eating out regularly at restaurants best defines the middle class – compared to about 38 percent of investors as a whole.