“I feel like, no matter what you have, somebody has about a hundred times that,” she explains. Another woman with a similar household income, mostly earned by her corporate-lawyer husband, described her family’s situation as “fine. […] I mean there are all the bankers that are heads and heels, you know, way above us.” A third woman, with an even higher household income – two and a half million dollars a year — objects to [the researcher]’s use of the word “affluent. […] “Affluent is relative,” the woman observes. Some friends of hers have recently flown off on vacation on a private plane. “That’s affluence,” she says.
Quoting Rachel Sherman, professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research (Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence) in Elizabeth Kolbert, Feeling Low: The psychology of inequality. New Yorker, 1/1/5/18.
Sociology as long known of reference group theory. At least among the middle class and above, those groups tend to evaluate themselves relative to the group above them rather than the group(s) immediately below them. The social threat to these groups is from not keeping up rather than their lessors catching up. This may not be the same for working class Americans, as there is a rich literature in the use of racial division to keep otherwise economically equally precarious groups of blacks and whites divided.