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What is it with Americans and Calling EVERYONE "Middle Class"?

I’m having several dumb arguments with people in the comments of that Sheryl Sandberg story on The Slot. People keep trying to tell me that Sandberg grew up middle class and how dare I suggest that anything other than bootstraps and luck got her to where she is.

What the hell?

Sheryl Sandberg was born in 1969, making her an early member of Generation X. Her mom was born in 1944 and her dad in 1943, making them members of the Greatest Generation According to her wikipedia bio, her dad is an ophthalmologist — a specialty that today on average clears 300k/year, which even with med school debt and a stay-at-home spouse would throw you into the ranks of the upper middle class today. It would definitely throw someone from that generation into the top 20% of earners, making them rich.


But people seem to disagree with that. And I don’t understand why — no actually, I do understand the why (which is that Americans think everyone but Kim Kardashian is middle class) but logically it doesn’t make any sense. My parents (I grew up in the states, FYI) would be furious when I offhandedly mentioned that I grew up poor, thus calling them poor. (Today I’d say I grew up mostly working class).

There’s really no good definition of “middle class” that I could find. Some argue it’s based on median income (Pew has a neat formula based on income that “feels” right to me but doesn’t take into account assets) others talk about a combination of educational attainment and the amount of autonomy your job has, and still others talk about it as a platonic ideal.


I always felt like middle class meant that you didn’t have to worry too much about your bills, that you could take a vacation every year or every other year, you could buy some clothes full price at the mall (which I was allowed to around the time I was in high school), maybe even go out to eat once a month.

How would you guys define middle class?

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