Americans believe that having a secure job is by far the most important requirement for being in the middle class, easily trumping homeownership and a college education, according to a new nationwide Pew Research Center survey.  

Nearly nine-in-ten adults (86%) say a person needs a secure job to be considered part of the middle class, while just 45% say the same about owning a home.  

The public’s view about what it takes to be in the middle class appears to have changed dramatically over the past two decades. In a 1991 nationwide Time/CNN/Yankelovich survey, 70% of respondents said homeownership was essential to being in the middle class, while just 33% said the same about having “a white collar job.” 

Please note:  Some of the differences between 2012 and 1991 are likely the result of wording differences between the two surveys: “a white collar job” (the wording used in the 1991 survey) is arguably a less inclusive and compelling a choice than “a secure job” (the wording used in the 2012 survey).  But some of the variance may also reflect the persistently high unemployment rates of the past four years as well as a longer-term decline in the share of the working-age public that is employed.