America's middle class is set apart from the rich by 2 distinct measures of wealth

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The rich are more prepared for retirement than the middle class.

America's middle class is shrinking.

From 1971 to 2016, the size of middle-class America has decreased by nearly 10%, according to the Pew Research Center. And from 2010 to 2016, their wealth didn't increase at the higher rate of the upper class, widening the income gap between the two groups.Advertisement

So how does life differ between America's middle class and America's rich? A recent survey by INSIDER and Morning Consult took a look. The survey polled 4,400 Americans, including 1,364 who identified themselves as middle class and 79 who identified themselves as affluent.

While the latter group is a relatively small sample, their responses do highlight two traditional markers of wealth that set them apart from the middle class: homeownership and retirement savings.

The middle class has more non-mortgage debt, which may place homeownership further away

The majority of both groups are homeowners, but more of the middle class than the affluent is still renting. Of those who responded, slightly less than 40% of both groups are currently saving to buy a home - but 13% of the middle class doesn't expect to ever own a home, compared to 9% of the rich.

Read more: The middle class is disappearing in countries around the world, and it means millennials won't have the same opportunities their parents did

The affluent shell out more for monthly housing costs. More than three-quarters of the middle class spend less than $2,500 on housing a month, compared to roughly half of the affluent - more than 35% spend over $2,500 a month, versus 7% of the middle class. Advertisement

Homeownership may feel more out of reach - and monthly housing costs may have to be more affordable - for the middle class because they have to allocate more money toward paying off debt.

According to the survey, around 62% of the middle class has credit card debt, compared to roughly half of the affluent. That might explain why the latter has a better credit score - nearly 75% of the affluent have a credit score over 700, compared to half of the middle class. 

The middle class also has more student loan debt - nearly half have student loans, compared to 39% of the affluent. Of those that have taken out student loans, more of the middle class than the affluent are still working on paying them off.Advertisement

The middle class isn't as well-prepared for retirement

Having more student loan and credit card debt might be why the middle class isn't as well-prepared for retirement as the affluent - more of whom expect to retire at an earlier age than the middle class. That might be because more are saving for retirement - 80% have a retirement account versus 63% of the middle class.

Of those with retirement accounts, more than half of the affluent respondents have $100,000 saved, compared to around 30% of the middle class. And more than a quarter of the middle class aren't currently putting aside money monthly for retirement, compared to less than a quarter of the affluent.

Read more: More than one-third of millennials earning at least $100,000 a year consider themselves middle classAdvertisement

More of the affluent also have brokerage accounts and a trust, but roughly the same percentage of both groups have a savings account.

A greater need to save for retirement and to pay off debt explains how the middle class would use an extra $1,000 - most would save it or use it to pay down debt. Meanwhile, most of the affluent would save or invest it - not surprising, considering that those building wealth tend to do so by using a simple investing strategy.

The affluent are also more likely than the middle class to spend it on travel or shopping, showing a taste for indulgence that the middle class doesn't necessarily have the budget for.Advertisement

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