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The definition I have always used is credited here[0] as “Brooksmith’s Law of Class Distinction”, but I don’t know if this is where I heard it first.

“Name on building: upper class. Name on desk: middle class. Name on shirt: working class”

It’s not perfect, but the idea is that class as most people conceptualize it is determined by workplace and lifestyle affordances and isn’t a neat percentile cutoff but flexes and wanes in size.

[0] https://www.just-one-liners.com/name-on-building-upper-class...

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> It’s not perfect

But it captures the essence of the upper-middle split. The upper class earns income from assets. The middle and lower classes from employment.

This isn’t an economic conversation, but a political one. The upper classes are economically sovereign. The middle and lower classes are beholden to their employers, at least during the savings stage of their careers.

Put another way, a child born to an upper-middle class family gets a leg up in educational opportunities and connections. A child born to an upper-class family may never have to work at all. Their principal challenge is retaining familial relationships. Referring to the upper middle class as “upper class” papers over the exorbitant privilege the latter retains.


There's an essay on social class breakdowns in the US, which used the term "Working Rich" to describe people like doctors, lawyers, engineers. I thought that was a much more useful term than "middle" vs "upper" vs "upper-middle." Many such people are in the top 10% (depending on educational debt), but the label succinctly describes their relationship with money beyond simply deciding an arbitrary dollar amount.

The Great British Class Survey has a very good definition of various classes imo: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_British_Class_Survey



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