The Census Bureau, the data angency charged with creating statistics on household incomes and their distribution, does not maintain an official definition of middle class status. This is because there is more to the definition than just strictly income; social factors also play a role. Thus, for its definition, the following six indicators are suggested to gauge whether you are middle class.

  • '... hold an accurate, succinct, neatly-worded written definition .... 'Thus, for its definition, the following six indicators are suggested to gauge whether you are middle class.' shows that it uses a working definition, and that there will be hard-to-decide cases (the Browns are hard to class accurately). Feb 6, 2020 at 14:37
  • Unless you add more context, and an attributed link, I'll have to close-vote. And even with more of the article, the precise sense of 'maintain' intended here might remain unclear. Feb 6, 2020 at 17:10
  • The next passage: While other indicators might arguably be added, a core list of middle class barometers includes: actual income, stock ownership, health insurance, the availability of credit, educational attainment, and the perception of opportunity. Further refinements might include variations by region or time. The goal here is to sketch out a baseline definition.
    – Allan
    Feb 7, 2020 at 3:20
  • In the following section, as said above, the author is "to sketch out a baseline definition".
    – Allan
    Feb 7, 2020 at 3:33
  • I think the prior context would be more helpful! But I can't find a link to this anywhere. // The trouble with unlinked/unattributed quotes-or-are-they? is that if they're more specious, the English used might well just be non-standard (though this admittedly sounds more officialese than patois). Feb 7, 2020 at 12:25

3 Answers 3


If you specifically refer to the verb "maintain", here it is used in the sense of "express" https://dictionary.cambridge.org/de/worterbuch/englisch/maintain

  • I'd think that if this was the intended sense, they'd just use 'express': simpler and works fine. I'm more persuaded towards the 'retain / hold' sense. Yes, these synonyms too would be simpler, but they don't have quite the same sense. Feb 6, 2020 at 16:42
  • Well, there is a certain overlap between "express" and "maintain" in terms of partial synonymy although the latter sounds more formal to me. Also, one should also consider the context, which is not clearly specified here. Without any doubts, the "retain-hypothesis" makes equally sense, but then I am wondering whether "an" as an article is appropriate. It should be "the" since the excerpt refers to a definition that has already been established and is well known to the speaker and maybe to the addressees ("official").
    – user373710
    Feb 6, 2020 at 16:56
  • I've tried to find the preceding context, but the article I found says that 'middle[-]class' is really ill-defined (ie has many varied and conflicting definitions) and logically is inherently undefinable in an acceptable way. Precising definitions are always possible (but someone will earn an extra dollar just after you've assessed them, or prices would escalate ...), but would be rejected by other classifiers. Feb 6, 2020 at 17:05
  • I meant "context" in the sense of the nature of the source, i.e. register.
    – user373710
    Feb 6, 2020 at 17:08
  • 1
    In the sense of "express", the word ”maintain“ usually collocates with "one's innocence" or "maintain that..." is used. "Maintain a definition" is rare.
    – Allan
    Feb 7, 2020 at 3:47

In your passage, maintain means assert or declare (or—more simply—have):

verb maintain = verb assert, claim; argue for


The Census Bureau . . . does not declare an official definition of middle class status. [because there is no way to do that based on income data alone]

  • This usage is rare. Can you find a link explaining it or more illustrative sentences? Luckily, I've found one:...D'Ormesson's insistance on the " universal " characteristics of her prose reads problematically as an attempt to maintain a definition of " universal " as a somehow nongendered although singularly masculine term...
    – Allan
    Feb 8, 2020 at 3:03
  • 1
    @Allan: Maintain meaning assert or declare is hardly rare; you can find that sense in any dictionary. And I knew what it meant without looking it up (for what that's worth). You can maintain/assert/declare a definition, your innocence, a hypothesis, etc. Feb 8, 2020 at 4:38
  • "Maintain your innocence" and "maintain that..." are frequently used; "maintain a definition/hypothesis" is rarely seen in dictionaries and articles. It'll be very helpful if you post links to relevant dictionaries and illustrative sentences.
    – Allan
    Feb 8, 2020 at 4:58
  • @Allan: That's like saying eat a banana is common but eat a kumquat is rare. Feb 8, 2020 at 7:52
  • In my opinion, it's better for an author not to use rare collocations. More importantly, I can't ascertain the meaning of "maintain a definition". The Cambridge definitions of "maintain": 1. continue to have(insist on); 2. express firmly your belief that something is true(assert). Which should I choose?
    – Allan
    Feb 8, 2020 at 14:06

In the context, it’s basically saying that the Census Bureau don’t publish a formal definition of the term “middle class” that can be applied to their statistical data.

Assuming we’re taking about the United States Census Bureau, they publish definitions of all of their technical terms here:


As one of the nation's key statistical agencies, the Census Bureau collects data on many topics vital to people and businesses. The Census Bureau adheres to scientific methods and therefore often uses precise technical terminology that may be unfamiliar to the public. Listed below are some of the major glossaries from our data programs to help people who wish to understand and use our data.

The original quote is claiming that ‘middle class” is not one of those technical terms.

The word “maintain” is probably being used with this definition in mind:



to continue to have; to keep in existence, or not allow to become less

  • If you understand it as "publish a formal definition", "to express firmly your belief that something is true" may be a better option among the Cambrdge defintions of the word "maintain".
    – Allan
    Feb 8, 2020 at 4:38

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