Number of middle-class adults drops 11 percentage points since 1970s

Boating has always been considered a classically middle-class activity, perfect for families looking to add recreation to their lifestyle. The industry continues to aim for these middle-class buyers, but the pool has unfortunately gotten smaller.

According to a new report from Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults living in middle-income households has fallen every decade since the 1970s. While 61 percent of adults were considered middle class in 1971, just 50 percent hold the distinction now.

Some 120.8 million adult Americans lived in middle-class households this year, according to Pew, which is slightly less than the combined number of upper-income adults (51 million) and lower-income adults (70.3 million). While the share of U.S. adults living in both upper- and lower-income households rose between 1971 and today, the share of upper-income adults grew more.

Additionally, fully 49 percent of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29 percent in 1970. The share of accruing to middle-income households was 43 percent in 2014, down nearly 20 points from 62 percent in 1970.

Pew defines a middle-class household as one having income that is two-thirds to double that of the overall median household income. For example, a family of four would need to have a minimum income of $48,347 to qualify.

The study includes much more data that is worth diving into if you are interested in seeing how the middle class has changed over the past 45 years. But what does this mean for boating? Presidential candidates can spend the next year telling us how they plan to fix the problems for our middle class, but we all know how well it fares to wait around for politicians to solve our problems.

With these trends among the middle class, we have two options: One, we acknowledge that eventually boating will no longer be a middle-class activity in the future (a solution none of us like); or two, we do all that we can to make it easier for middle-class families to make boating a part of their lifestyle.

This means creative alternatives like boat sharing and boat clubs, more affordable entry-level products that allow families to move up through a product line, and driving home the message of the value boating can have in a family’s life through the Discover Boating campaign.

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