About half (52%) of American adults lived in middle-class households in 2016. This is virtually unchanged from the 51% who were middle class in 2011. But while the size of the nation’s middle class remained relatively stable, financial gains for middle-income Americans during this period were modest compared with those of higher-income households, causing the income disparity between the groups to grow.
The recent stability in the share of adults living in middle-income households marks a shift from a decades-long downward trend. From 1971 to 2011, the share of adults in the middle class fell by 10 percentage points. But that shift was not all down the economic ladder. Indeed, the increase in the share of adults who are upper income was greater than the increase in the share who are lower income over that period, a sign of economic progress overall.