Does $60k constitute a high income?

Recently I got into a bit of a debate in the forum of, well, a simple Facebook status. Basically, somebody (and subsequently others) took umbrage at the fact that the paper, in a story on women and high income households feeling the financial pinch, labelled $60k a high income.

Now, I’m pretty sure I actually participated in the survey that the story was based on. I would probably also wager that it was Dun & Bradstreet that set the income bands offered in the answers, and decided the cutoff point for a higher-than-average wage.

But I digress. Initially, I wanted to stand up for the reporter, but most of all, I wanted to reinforce the fact, contrary to their statements, I believe $60k is nowhere NEAR the average household income in New Zealand (more like $45k).

Comments were basically along the lines of “they don’t know what they’re talking about“, and “Even 60k for one person is not that high“.

Look, NZ is expensive. I don’t earn $60k, but although I would never be able to buy a house on that amount, it would certainly support two people. Maybe it’s not “high” in some people’s eyes – I don’t necessarily think it’s all that much, either – but it’s far from poverty level and certainly not the average.

According to Statistics NZ, the median weekly income last year was $538; for people receiving income from wages and salaries, $760.

Is $60k the average income for a worker? Clearly not.

Now, the main, and more contentious point about how realistic that claim was: “That’s barely two minimum wage-salaries combined“.

For the record, two workers earning minimum wage would net just over $52k gross.

I pointed out that there are plenty of students, single/noncohabiting/divorced people, part-time workers, people on benefits, and those on low or minimum wage out there; NZ is not exactly a high-wage economy. Plus there’s that whole minefield of the definition of “average” – mean? median? – and that not all households have two incomes.

(Another point was raised about most households having multiple people spending the income – children I presume – and while that may be a fair point…I don’t know what the “average” household makeup is these days…but I don’t think outgoings are relevant to the matter of income for this purpose.)

So, what about for a household? Well, clearly it’s not hard for a dual-income household with both working fulltime to hit the mark.  But I just wasn’t sure that those would make up the majority of households, and stood by the belief that calling $60k a “high income” isn’t inherently wrong.

According to census numbers and income surveys (also to be found on Stats NZ), the average household income derived from wages and salaries was $46,000 last year. So, not quite. BUT, the median annual household income was $63,867 (other contributing sources included government support, self employment and investments). So, it looks like I should concede on that point.

What do you consider an average wage, or high income, wherever you are?

12 thoughts on “Does $60k constitute a high income?

  • Reply Scribbles August 16, 2010 at 17:56

    I know for teachers $60k is hitting the higher echelons of the pay scale that we are EVER likely to get… just as well I’m not in it for the money. I have concerns that SB is not going to hit $60k in the next couple of years and that money will be tight when I stay at home with the kids…. guess that’s what savings and mom-preneuring and contract work is for.

  • Reply youngandthrifty August 16, 2010 at 18:32

    Our average wage here in BC, Canada is about $40K.

    I guess it really depends on the social security supports, the higher we make, the more we get taxed.

    Some people in other countries may make more than the average for our countries, but they might not have as many services available (like free health care, smooth roads, welfare for those who are unable to work).

    I guess that’s another topic entirely though! =)

  • Reply Amber from Girl with the Red Hair August 16, 2010 at 18:43

    I’ll just outright say it – I make $25 k a year and it’s on the low side. I struggle a lot with living paycheque to paycheque and barely having enough to pay bills even with the freelance work I pick up on the side (which is probably another $2 – 3 K a year).

    I’m hoping that I’ll get a few raises in the next couple years and move up to a more comfortable income. If we could bring in $60 K between the two of us right now I would be estatic! Lol

  • Reply Kara August 17, 2010 at 05:33

    I’m with Amber. I think I make around $25 K a year too and that’s probably being generous to me. In fact, when I went to my new chiropractor, the receptionist told me I qualify for the low-income prices. Wow. $60 K for me right now is a pipe dream.

    I would say a high income would be $80 K or higher. One day I hope Kyle and I can collectively get there!

  • Reply Amanda August 17, 2010 at 12:58

    I don’t think 60K is a high income. I’m on 48K now, and it’s not unimaginable for me to be at 60K in the next three years. If I was still renting, I wouldn’t have any problems financially right now – I’d be able to save about 20K a year. With a significant mortgage though, I’ll be pinching pennies…boyfriend will be moving in with me to help me save more as he’ll be paying expenses and I’ll be paying the mortgage.

    In other words, I don’t think 60K is unreasonable for an educated worker. I certainly think that I don’t get paid enough now.

  • Reply Stephany August 17, 2010 at 14:16

    I consider 60K to be a high income. I make just about nothing, but my mom only makes less than 40K between 2 jobs. We make it, but it’s tight. Getting an extra 20K a year would be SUCH a help!

    Being in journalism, I have no idea what kind of work I’ll be getting and I’m just hoping to be able to live on my own comfortably. 60K would be JUST GREAT!

  • Reply Carrie August 17, 2010 at 16:22

    i definitely wouldn’t consider it high around here (i know my ex-boyfriend made $60k as a paid intern at cisco right out of college) but when you average in all the unemployed and service industry people it might work out to average.

  • Reply fig August 18, 2010 at 12:00

    Honestly 60K in almost any country is a high income for the average. But in certain cities the cost of living is so ridiculously high that 60K is nothing and is basically a starting salary for most people. It has so much to do with where you live, but for the majority 60K is high and plenty of money for someone. It’s all about perspective.

    My perspective – NZ is expensive! I’m trying adjust to it, but it’s a huge change from where I lived before.

  • Reply Revanche August 23, 2010 at 12:46

    I don’t consider 60K to be a high income because I look at it from the perspective of supporting a whole family and I set my sights considerably higher. Then too, I’ve gone and moved where the COL is even higher than what I was used to so the sense of “average” is even yet more skewed.

  • Reply Keeping in touch « Musings of an Abstract Aucklander August 25, 2010 at 13:50

    […] This week’s Carnival of Personal Finance is up! Thanks Paul for including my post, Does 60k constitute a high income? […]

  • Reply Monroe on a Budget August 26, 2010 at 17:46

    I’m in the Detroit area where roughly $50K is the median household income. So I wouldn’t consider $60K itself to be rich here, however, those who have reached the $75K range will noticeably be doing better than average.

    Regardless of the numbers, it’s amazing how many people on the higher income brackets think they are “middle class,” because, well, if they compare themselves to people they know, they’re doing right about the middle. (!)

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