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What is Upper Class Income?

Updated on October 7, 2015
Upper Class Old Money Home
Upper Class Old Money Home
What is Upper Class Income?
What is Upper Class Income?

What is upper class income? How much money do you have to make to be considered upper class? Economic status is not a polite topic in the United States, but many people are curious about the subject. The term upper class is also sometimes interchangeable with the word "rich." This might be you, whether you are new money or old money.

According to top socio-economist, Dr. Leonard Beeghley, upper class income refers to the top 1% of United States' households that have an annual income of $350,000 or more. This figure does not have to be earned income from a job. Besides paid positions, dividends, royalties, income from trusts, etc., all count.

That being said, the vilified "one percenters" are not all as rich as you think, considering upper class income qualifies at $350,000. It is not the millions of dollars that people think the upper crust has rolling in each year, at least not for many of them.

And conversely, you do not need to earn quite as much money to be solidly middle class.

Other economists have different numbers in mind when it comes to upper class income.

Varying Figures

Some economists disagree on the figure that deems a household upper class. One figure is $250,000.

This figure is based on the idea that this is the amount of money a family would need to live in a comfortable suburb in a single home, send their children to private schools, go on vacations every year, save for retirement, own two cars, have a great deal of expendable income, and not have any debt with exception to a mortgage in which equity is built.

The highest common figure of what income denotes being upper class is at least $500,000. This figure is based on a family's ability to live in America's wealthiest communities, purchase luxury cars, own memberships to country clubs, and have a net worth of at least $1 million.


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The upper class also has subdivisions within it, some of them being:

  • Heirs and people descended from those with notoriety, i.e., political figures, and inventors. These are known as old money.
  • People famous in their own right, such as performing artists and celebrities.
  • Corporate wealth: executives, investors.
  • Professionals: doctors, lawyers, highly paid politicians.

The common bond amongst all of these groups is the annual income figure.

Coming into Money

Interestingly enough, one can temporarily be upper class by inheriting a large sum of money in one year – for example, if a man or woman inherits $350,000 or gains this amount of money from the sale of an inherited home. Since it is not common for most households to hold onto a temporary inheritance, if one were to invest this amount of money, they would be in the top 20% of net worth holders in the U.S.


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