Date of Award

Spring 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Mil Duncan


What it takes to be middle class in the United States has changed dramatically from the post World War II period to the 1970s and the present. At the same time the requirements for attaining the income and assets associated with a middle class position changed, many financial protections available to the middle class weakened. The new economic landscape following a period of economic restructuring has made it harder to earn a position in the middle class while the changed political landscape has possibly made it harder to maintain one's position. This research examines the extent to which middle class families from a birth cohort that came of age during the 1990s period of economic restructuring are economically vulnerable. To assess the role of changing financial protections, I examine the extent to which losing health insurance affects members of the middle class economically, focusing on married couples to avoid confusing vulnerability caused by divorce with macroeconomic level changes. Using panel data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, I examine the economic and occupational experiences of a birth cohort who were young adults during the period of economic restructuring in the 1980s and 1990s, following their trajectories through to 2006, the latest wave of data collected. To gain a clearer sense of how individuals cope with economic struggles, and to discern if experiences vary by class position, I interviewed a small sample of individuals in the New England region.