Gordon adds that lifestyles can also be deceptive in understanding economic class. "A large majority of Americans live in the outer fringes of cities, suburbs, and exurbs. Theirs is a life of low density and backyard barbecues. Many more people today compared to five years ago are having trouble paying the mortgage on this lifestyle, but it doesn't change their feeling that they are living a middle-class lifestyle," he says.
"It takes a long time for people to change their view of what class they're in," Gordon says. "That's especially true since the current definition of middle class is so broad that it excludes only the top 1 or 2 percent and the bottom 10 or 20 percent."
Gordon says popular culture also limits understanding of class, reinforcing the idea that all people are in the middle.
"Sixty years of universal television-watching has fostered the idea that everyone is in the middle class. Most TV sitcoms are about people like us, except sillier," he says. " There's very little media portrayal of a truly upper class that would make the vast middle feel that they were in some different sphere."