DEFINITION of 'Upper Class'

Upper class is a socioeconomic term used to describe individuals who reside above both the working class and middle class of a social hierarchy. Individuals in the upper class have higher levels of disposable income, greater say in the political realm, and exert more control over the use of natural resources. While the upper class makes up a small percentage of the overall population, it controls a disproportionately large amount of the overall wealth.


From a historical perspective, the upper class was dominated by land-owning nobility and aristocrats. Over the years the term has expanded to include celebrities, politicians, investors and other wealthy people.

While those in the upper class (the rich) do exert significant control over economic and political developments, most production activities and consumption is done by the working and middle classes. The working and middle classes handle most of the economic production and consumption because they are much larger in number than the small upper class and require a larger percentage of the resources.

In a frontier or emerging economy, there are often only two classes. The working class, or poor, and the upper class, or elite. As an economy develops and better jobs and infrastructure create more wealth, a middle class emerges. The newly emerged middle class starts to have more disposable income which further advances the economy. Eventually, a divide within the middle class emerges and separates the average middle class from those who have significantly more disposable income but aren't yet considered "rich." These are the upper middle class people. The upper middle class usually evolves out of people from the middle class tier who are particularly resourceful or who achieve higher levels of education than the rest of the middle class. Examples of these people in today's society would be doctors and lawyers. They are not Bill Gates, but they are also making more money than a teacher.

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