Middle class

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The middle class is a class of people in the middle of a social hierarchy. Its usage has often been vague whether defined in terms of occupation, income, education or social status. The definition by any author is often chosen for political connotations. Writers on the left favor the lower-status "working class". Modern social theorists—and especially economists—have defined and re-defined the term "middle class" in order to serve their particular social or political ends.

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Within capitalism, "middle-class" initially referred to the bourgeoisie; later, with the further differentiation of classes as capitalist societies developed, the term came to be synonymous with the term petite bourgeoisie .

The common measures of what constitutes middle class vary significantly among cultures. On the one hand, the term can be viewed primarily in terms of socioeconomic status. One of the narrowest definitions limits it to those in the middle fifth of the nation's income ladder. A wider characterization includes everyone but the poorest 20% and the wealthiest 20%. [1] Some theories like "Paradox of Interest", use decile groups and wealth distribution data to determine the size and wealth share of the middle class. [2]

In modern American vernacular, the term "middle class" is most often used as a self-description by those persons whom academics and Marxists would otherwise identify as the working class, which are below both the upper class and the true middle class, but above those in poverty. This leads to considerable ambiguity over the meaning of the term "middle class" in American usage. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert and Joseph Kahl see this American self-described "middle class" (working class) as the most populous class in the United States. [3]

In 1977 Barbara Ehrenreich and her then husband John defined a new class in the United States as "salaried menial workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor ... [is] ... the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations;" the Ehrenreichs named this group the "professional-managerial class". [4]

There has been significant global middle-class growth over time. In February 2009, The Economist asserted that over half the world's population now belongs to the middle class, as a result of rapid growth in emerging countries. It characterized the middle class as having a reasonable amount of discretionary income, so that they do not live from hand-to-mouth as the poor do, and defined it as beginning at the point where people have roughly a third of their income left for discretionary spending after paying for basic food and shelter.

Terminology

The term middle class was coined by British writer James Bradshaw in a 1745 pamphlet Scheme to prevent running Irish Wools to France. [5] [6] The term has had various, even contradictory, meanings. In medieval European feudal society (8th–12th centuries), a "middle class" composed primarily of peasants who formed a new "bourgeoisie" based on the success of their mercantile ventures, eventually overthrew the ruling monarchists of their society and ultimately led to the rise of capitalist societies.

History and evolution of the term

The term "middle class" is first attested in James Bradshaw's 1745 pamphlet Scheme to prevent running Irish Wools to France. [5] [6] Another phrase used in early modern Europe was "the middling sort". [7] [8] [9]

The term "middle class" has had several, sometimes contradictory, meanings. Friedrich Engels saw the category as an intermediate social class between the nobility and the peasantry in late-feudalist society. [10] [ need quotation to verify ] While the nobility owned much of the countryside, and the peasantry worked it, a new bourgeoisie (literally "town-dwellers") arose around mercantile functions in the city. In France, the middle classes helped drive the French Revolution. [11] This "middle class" eventually overthrew the ruling monarchists of feudal society, thus becoming the new ruling class or bourgeoisie in the new capitalist-dominated societies. [12]

The modern usage of the term "middle-class", however, dates to the 1913 UK Registrar-General's report, in which the statistician T.H.C. Stevenson identified the middle class as those falling between the upper-class and the working-class.[ citation needed ] The middle class includes: professionals, managers, and senior civil servants. The chief defining characteristic of membership in the middle-class is control of significant human capital while still being under the dominion of the elite upper class, who control much of the financial and legal capital in the world.

Within capitalism, "middle-class" initially referred to the bourgeoisie; later, with the further differentiation of classes as capitalist societies developed, the term came to be synonymous with the term petite bourgeoisie . The boom-and-bust cycles of capitalist economies result in the periodic (and more or less temporary) impoverisation and proletarianisation of much of the petite bourgeois world, resulting in their moving back and forth between working-class and petite-bourgeois status. The typical modern definitions of "middle class" tend to ignore the fact that the classical petite-bourgeoisie is and has always been the owner of a small-to medium-sized business whose income is derived almost exclusively from the employment of workers; "middle class" came to refer to the combination of the labour aristocracy, professionals, and salaried, white-collar workers.

The size of the middle class depends on how it is defined, whether by education, wealth, environment of upbringing, social network, manners or values, etc. These are all related, but are far from deterministically dependent. The following factors are often ascribed in the literature on this topic to a "middle class:"[ by whom? ]

In the United States, by the end of the twentieth century, more people identified themselves as middle-class than as lower or "working" class (with insignificant numbers identifying themselves as upper-class). [17] The Labour Party in the UK, which grew out of the organised labour movement and originally drew almost all of its support from the working-class, reinvented itself under Tony Blair in the 1990s as "New Labour", a party competing with the Conservative Party for the votes of the middle-class as well as those of the Labour Party's traditional group of voters – the working-class. Around 40% of British people consider themselves to be middle class, and this number has remained relatively stable over the last few decades. [18]

Marxism

Marxism defines social classes according to their relationship with the means of production. The "middle class" is said to be the class below the ruling class and above the proletariat in the Marxist social schema and is synonymous with the term "petite-" or "petty-bourgeoisie". Marxist writers have used the term in two distinct but related ways. [19] In the first sense, it is used for the bourgeoisie (the urban merchant and professional class) that arose between the aristocracy and the proletariat in the waning years of feudalism in the Marxist model. V. I. Lenin stated that the "peasantry ... in Russia constitute eight- or nine-tenths of the petty bourgeoisie". [20] [21] However, in modern developed countries, Marxist writers define the petite bourgeoisie as primarily comprising (as the name implies) owners of small to medium-sized businesses, who derive their income from the exploitation of wage-laborers (and who are in turn exploited by the "big" bourgeoisie i.e. bankers, owners of large corporate trusts, etc.) as well as the highly educated professional class of doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, university professors, salaried middle-management of capitalist enterprises of all sizes, etc. – as the "middle class" which stands between the ruling capitalist "owners of the means of production" and the working class (whose income is derived solely from hourly wages).

Pioneer 20th century American Marxist theoretician Louis C. Fraina (Lewis Corey) defined the middle class as "the class of independent small enterprisers, owners of productive property from which a livelihood is derived". [22] From Fraina's perspective, this social category included "propertied farmers" but not propertyless tenant farmers. Middle class also included salaried managerial and supervisory employees but not "the masses of propertyless, dependent salaried employees. [22] Fraina speculated that the entire category of salaried employees might be adequately described as a "new middle class" in economic terms, although this remained a social grouping in which "most of whose members are a new proletariat." [22]

Professional-managerial class

In 1977 Barbara Ehrenreich and her then husband John defined a new class in the United States as "salaried menial workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor ... [is] ... the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations;" the Ehrenreichs named this group the "professional-managerial class". [4] This group of middle-class professionals is distinguished from other social classes by their training and education (typically business qualifications and university degrees), [23] with example occupations including academics and teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level administrators. [24] The Ehrenreichs developed their definition from studies by André Gorz, Serge Mallet, and others, of a "new working class," which, despite education and a perception of themselves as middle class, were part of the working class because they did not own the means of production, and were wage earners paid to produce a piece of capital. [25] The professional-managerial class seeks higher rank status and salary [26] and tend to have incomes above the average for their country. [27]

Recent global growth

It is important to understand that modern definitions of the term "middle class" are often politically motivated and vary according to the exigencies of political purpose which they were conceived to serve in the first place as well as due to the multiplicity of more- or less-scientific methods used to measure and compare "wealth" between modern advanced industrial states (where poverty is relatively low and the distribution of wealth more egalitarian in a relative sense) and in developing countries (where poverty and a profoundly unequal distribution of wealth crush the vast majority of the population). Many of these methods of comparison have been harshly criticised; for example, economist Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century , describes one of the most commonly used comparative measures of wealth across the globe – the Gini coefficient  – as being an example of "synthetic indices ... which mix very different things, such as inequality with respect to labor and capital, so that it is impossible to distinguish clearly among the multiple dimensions of inequality and the various mechanisms at work." [28]

In February 2009, The Economist asserted that over half the world's population now belongs to the middle class, as a result of rapid growth in emerging countries. It characterized the middle class as having a reasonable amount of discretionary income, so that they do not live from hand-to-mouth as the poor do, and defined it as beginning at the point where people have roughly a third of their income left for discretionary spending after paying for basic food and shelter. This allows people to buy consumer goods, improve their health care, and provide for their children's education. Most of the emerging middle class consists of people who are middle class by the standards of the developing world but not the developed one, since their money incomes do not match developed country levels, but the percentage of it which is discretionary does. By this definition, the number of middle-class people in Asia exceeded that in the West sometime around 2007 or 2008. [29]

The Economist's article pointed out that in many emerging countries the middle class has not grown incrementally but explosively. The point at which the poor start entering the middle class by the millions is alleged to be the time when poor countries get the maximum benefit from cheap labour through international trade, before they price themselves out of world markets for cheap goods. It is also a period of rapid urbanization, when subsistence farmers abandon marginal farms to work in factories, resulting in a several-fold increase in their economic productivity before their wages catch up to international levels. That stage was reached in China some time between 1990 and 2005, when the Chinese "middle class" grew from 15% to 62% of the population and is just being reached in India now.

The Economist predicted that surge across the poverty line should continue for a couple of decades and the global middle class will grow exponentially between now and 2030. Based on the rapid growth, scholars expect the global middle class to be the driving force for sustainable development. This assumption, however, is contested (see below). [30]

As the American middle class is estimated by some researchers to comprise approximately 45% of the population, [31] [32] [33] The Economist's article would put the size of the American middle class below the world average. This difference is due to the extreme difference in definitions between The Economist's and many other models.[ discuss ]

In 2010, a working paper by the OECD asserted that 1.8 billion people were now members of the global "middle class". [34] Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report 2014, released in October 2014, estimated that one billion adults belonged to the "middle class," with wealth anywhere between the range of $10,000–$100,000. [35]

According to a study carried out by the Pew Research Center, a combined 16% of the world's population in 2011 were "upper-middle income" and "upper income". [36]

An April 2019 OECD report said that the millennial generation is being pushed out of the middle class throughout the Western world. [37]

Russia

In 2012, the "middle class" in Russia was estimated as 15% of the whole population. Due to sustainable growth, the pre-crisis [38] level was exceeded. [39] In 2015, research from the Russian Academy of Sciences estimated that around 15% of the Russian population are "firmly middle class", while around another 25% are "on the periphery". [40]

China

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China's middle class has grown by significant margins. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, by 2013, some 420 million people, or 31%, of the Chinese population qualified as middle class. [41] Based on the World Bank definition of middle class as those having with daily spending between $10 to $50 per day, nearly 40% of the Chinese population were considered middle class as of 2017. [42]

India

Estimates vary widely on the number of middle-class people in India. According to The Economist, 78 million of India's population are considered middle class as of 2017, if defined using the cutoff of those making more than $10 per day, a standard used by the India's National Council of Applied Economic Research. [43] If including those with incomes $2 – $10 per day, the number increases to 604 million. This was termed by researchers as the "new middle class". [44] Measures considered include geography, lifestyle, income, and education. The World Inequality Report in 2018 further concluded that elites (i.e. the top 10%) are accumulating wealth at a greater rate than the middle class, that rather than growing, India's middle class may be shrinking in size. [43]

Africa

According to a 2014 study by Standard Bank economist Simon Freemantle, a total of 15.3 million households in 11 surveyed African nations are middle-class. These include Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. [45] In South Africa, a report conducted by the Institute for Race Relations in 2015 [46] estimated that between 10%–20% of South Africans are middle class, based on various criteria. [47] An earlier study estimated that in 2008 21.3% of South Africans were members of the middle class. [48]

A study by EIU Canback indicates 90% of Africans fall below an income of $10 a day. The proportion of Africans in the $10–$20 middle class (excluding South Africa), rose from 4.4% to only 6.2% between 2004 and 2014. Over the same period, the proportion of "upper middle" income ($20–$50 a day) went from 1.4% to 2.3%. [49]

According to a 2014 study by the German Development Institute, the middle class of Sub-Saharan Africa rose from 14 million to 31 million people between 1990 and 2010. [50]

Latin America

According to a study by the World Bank, the number of Latin Americans who are middle class rose from 103m to 152m between 2003 and 2009. [51]

Middle-class shares by income and wealth

The numbers below reflect the middle, upper, and lower share of all adults by country by net wealth (not income). Middle class is defined here for the US as those adults with a net wealth of between US$50,000 and US$500,000 in mid 2015. Purchasing power parity is used to adjust these number for other countries. [52] Unlike that of the upper class, wealth of the middle and lowest quintile consists substantially of non-financial assets, specifically home equity. Factors which explain differences in home equity include housing prices and home ownership rates. According to the OECD, the vast majority of financial assets in every country analysed is found in the top of the wealth distribution. [52] [53]

The American middle class is smaller than the middle classes across Western Europe, but its income is higher, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. and 11 European nations. [54]

The median disposable (after-tax) income of middle-class households in the U.S. was $60,884 in 2010. With the exception of Luxembourg – a virtual city-state where the median income was $71,799 – the disposable incomes of middle-class households in the other 10 Western European countries in the study trailed well behind the American middle class. [54]

^ *1: (Middle class and above) – (Middle class)

^ *2: 100 – (Middle class and above)

Rising inequality from 1970-2000

During the height of the American Middle Class, in the 1950s and 1960s low income workers reaped the benefits of a growing economy. The jobs created were ideal blue collar positions that paid well and strengthened the backbone of the American economy. Jordan Weismann at The Atlantic writes, “The poorest fifth of all households, in fact, fared best. Then, in the 1970s, amid two oil crises and awful inflation, things ground to a halt. The country backed off the postwar, center-left consensus -- captured by Richard Nixon's comment that "we're all Keynesians now"—and tried Reaganism instead. We cut taxes. Technology and competition from abroad started whittling away at blue collar jobs and pay. The financial markets took off.” Based on a 2012 study by Pew Research Center that looked at the average annual change in mean family income between 1950 and 2010, the middle class peaked in the 1970s. By the start of the 1980s the poorest fifth of all households was no longer receiving the lion’s share of the spoils and in fact saw their mean family income decline between 1980-1990. In that same time frame the uppermost quintile saw their mean income increase by just over 2% and the top 5% of earners by over 3%. Those numbers grew to 3% and 4% respectively in the 1990s, while middle and lower class income growth lagged behind with a mild 1% growth.

See also

Other:

Related Research Articles

Social class Hierarchical social stratification

A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences and political theory centered on models of social stratification which occurs in class society, in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

Bourgeoisie The wealthy stratum of the middle class that originated during the latter part of the Middle Ages

Bourgeoisie is a polysemous French term that can mean:

Social class in the United States

Social class in the United States refers to the idea of grouping Americans by some measure of social status, typically economic, however it could also refer to social status or location. The idea that American society can be divided into social classes is disputed, and there are many competing class systems.

The upper class in modern societies is the social class composed of people who hold the highest social status, usually are the wealthiest members of class society, and wield the greatest political power. According to this view, the upper class is generally distinguished by immense wealth which is passed on from generation to generation. Prior to the 20th century, the emphasis was on aristocracy, which emphasized generations of inherited noble status, not just recent wealth.

<i>Petite bourgeoisie</i>

Petite bourgeoisie, also petty bourgeoisie, is a French term referring to a social class comprising semi-autonomous peasantry and small-scale merchants whose politico-economic ideological stance in times of socioeconomic stability is determined by reflecting that of a haute ("high") bourgeoisie, with which the petite bourgeoisie seeks to identify itself and whose bourgeois morality it strives to imitate.

Upper middle class Class of people in the higher end of the middle of a societal hierarchy

In sociology, the upper middle class is the social group constituted by higher status members of the middle class. This is in contrast to the term lower middle class, which is used for the group at the opposite end of the middle-class stratum, and to the broader term middle class. There is considerable debate as to how the upper middle class might be defined. According to sociologist Max Weber, the upper middle class consists of well-educated professionals with postgraduate degrees and comfortable incomes.

Social stratification population with similar characteristics in a society

Social stratification refers to a society's categorization of its people into groups based on socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, race, education, ethnicity, gender, occupation, social status, or derived power. As such, stratification is the relative social position of persons within a social group, category, geographic region, or social unit.

Surplus product

Surplus product is an economic concept explicitly theorised by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. Marx first began to work out his idea of surplus product in his 1844 notes on James Mill's Elements of political economy.

Proletarianization

In Marxism, proletarianization is the social process whereby people move from being either an employer, unemployed or self-employed, to being employed as wage labor by an employer. Proletarianization is often seen as the most important form of downward social mobility.

Class stratification is a form of social stratification in which a society is separated into parties whose members have different access to resources and power. An economic, natural, cultural, religious, interests and ideal rift usually exists between different classes.

The modern social structure of France is complex, but generally similar to that of other European countries. Traditional social classes still have some presence, with a large bourgeoisie and especially petite bourgeoisie, and an unusually large proportion, for modern Europe, of farming smallholders. All these groups, and the remaining industrial working class, have considerable political power, which they are able to flex when required.

The American middle class is a social class in the United States. While the concept is typically ambiguous in popular opinion and common language use, contemporary social scientists have put forward several ostensibly congruent theories on the American middle class. Depending on the class model used, the middle class constitutes anywhere from 25% to 66% of households.

The American upper class is a social group within the United States consisting of people who have the highest social rank, primarily due to economic wealth. The American upper class is distinguished from the rest of the population due to the fact that its primary source of income consists of assets, investments, and capital gains rather than wages and salaries. The American upper class is estimated to include one to two percent of the population.

The Gilbert model was developed by Dennis Gilbert as a means of a more effective way of classifying people in a given society into social classes.

Marxian class theory asserts that an individual's position within a class hierarchy is determined by their role in the production process, and argues that political and ideological consciousness is determined by class position. A class is those who share common economic interests, are conscious of those interests, and engage in collective action which advances those interests. Within Marxian class theory, the structure of the production process forms the basis of class construction.

In sociology, the upper middle class of the United States is the social group constituted by higher-status members of the middle class. This is in contrast to the term lower middle class, which refers to the group at the opposite end of the middle class scale. There is considerable debate as to how the upper middle class might be defined. According to Max Weber, the upper middle class consists of well-educated professionals with graduate degrees and comfortable incomes.

Working class Social class composed of members of the society employed in lower tier jobs

The working class comprises those engaged in waged or salaried labour, especially in manual-labour occupations and industrial work. Working-class occupations include blue-collar jobs, some white-collar jobs, and most pink-collar jobs. Members of the working class rely exclusively upon earnings from wage labour; thus, according to more inclusive definitions, the category can include almost all of the working population of industrialized economies, as well as those employed in the urban areas of non-industrialized economies or in the rural workforce.

In Karl Marx's critique of political economy and subsequent Marxian analyses, the capitalist mode of production refers to the systems of organizing production and distribution within capitalist societies. Private money-making in various forms preceded the development of the capitalist mode of production as such. The capitalist mode of production proper, based on wage-labour and private ownership of the means of production and on industrial technology, began to grow rapidly in Western Europe from the Industrial Revolution, later extending to most of the world.

The proletariat is the social class of wage-earners, those members of a society whose only possession of significant economic value is their labour power. A member of such a class is a proletarian.

Social class in Luxembourg

Social class in Luxembourg after 1945 is generally based on occupation, personal income and spending power as well as rights to social welfare rather than birth circumstances and family background. The country's demographic situation has changed considerably since 1945, where a mostly blue-collar working population gave way to mostly white-collar occupations over the second half of the twentieth century. Differences in consumer patterns between the white collar and blue collar workers decreased considerably between 1963 and 1977, causing a socio-economic evolution which saw a wider sphere of access for both working and middle classes to consumer goods such as cars, white goods and real estate, thus demonstrating an equalisation of social strata in terms of income and spending power. The population of Luxembourg has also altered in nature due to significant growth in numbers of residents and increases in migration patterns since the mid-twentieth century; in 1961 13% of the population consisted of non-Luxembourgers, by 2016, this is at 47%. At present, one third of the Luxembourgish population has a migrant background’, and this is as a result of the response to socioeconomic processes that drew large numbers of immigrants to the country in the latter half of the twentieth century.

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Further reading

  • Balzer, Harley D., ed. Russia's Missing Middle Class: The Professions in Russian History (ME Sharpe, 1996).
  • Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Esther Duflo (December 2007). What is middle class about the middle classes around the world? (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Economics. p. 50. Archived from the original on 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  • Blackbourn, David, and Richard J. Evans, eds. The German Bourgeoisie: Essays on the Social History of the German Middle Class from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century (1991).
  • Cashell, Brian W. Who Are the "Middle Class"?, CRS Report for the Congress, 20 March 2007
  • Dejung, Christof, David Motadel, and Jürgen Osterhammel, eds. The Global Bourgeoisie: The Rise of the Middle Classes in the Age of Empire (2019) scholarly essays covering major countries and region s in 19th century excerpt also chapters online
  • Jones, Larry Eugene. "'The Dying Middle': Weimar Germany and the Fragmentation of Bourgeois Politics." Central European History 5.1 (1972): 23–54.
  • Kocka, Jürgen. "The Middle Classes in Europe," Journal of Modern History 67#4 (1995): 783–806. doi.org/10.1086/245228. online
  • Kocka, Jürgen, and J. Allan Mitchell, eds. Bourgeois Society in 19th Century Europe (1992)
  • Lebovics, Herman. Social Conservatism and the Middle Class in Germany, 1914–1933 (Princeton UP, 2015).
  • López, A. Ricardo, and Barbara Weinstein, eds. The Making of the Middle Class: Toward a Transnational History (Duke University Press, 2012) 446 pp. scholarly essays
  • McKibbin, Ross. Classes and Cultures: England 1918–1951 (2000) pp 44–105.
  • Mills, C. Wright, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951).
  • Pilbeam, Pamela. The Middle Classes in Europe, 1789–1914: France, Germany, Italy, and Russia (1990)
  • Wells, Jonathan Daniel. "The Southern Middle Class," Journal of Southern History, Volume: 75#3 2009. pp 651+.
  • Williams, E. N. "Our Merchants Are Princes": The English Middle Classes In The Eighteenth Century" History Today (Aug 1962), Vol. 12 Issue 8, pp548-557.