The middle class is a class of people in the middle of a social hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class. The common measures of what constitutes middle class vary significantly among cultures. A sizable and healthy middle-class can be viewed as a characteristic of a healthy society.
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. Another phrase used in Early modern Europe was "the middling sort".
The term "middle class" has had several, sometimes contradictory, meanings. It was once defined by exception as an intermediate social class between the nobility and the peasantry of Europe.[by whom?] While the nobility owned the countryside, and the peasantry worked the countryside, a new bourgeoisie (literally "town-dwellers") arose around mercantile functions in the city. In France, the middle classes helped drive the French Revolution. Another definition equated the middle class to the original meaning of capitalist: someone with so much capital that they could rival nobles. In fact, to be a capital-owning millionaire was the essential criterion of the middle class in the industrial revolution.
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 that falling between the upper-class and the working-class. Included as belonging to the middle-class are: professionals, managers, and senior civil servants. The chief defining characteristic of membership in the middle-class is possession of significant human capital.
Within capitalism, "middle-class" initially referred to the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie. However, with the impoverisation and proletarianisation of much of the petit bourgeois world, and the growth of finance capitalism, "middle class" came to refer to the combination of the labour aristocracy, the professionals, and the 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 modern usage to a "middle class":[by whom?]
- Achievement of tertiary education.
- Holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, chartered engineers, politicians, and doctors, regardless of leisure or wealth.
- Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house ownership, delayed gratification, and jobs which are perceived to be secure.
- Lifestyle. In the United Kingdom, social status has historically been linked less directly to wealth than in the United States, and has also been judged by signifiers such as accent (Received Pronunciation and U and non-U English), manners, type of school attended (public school), occupation, and the class of a person's family, circle of friends and acquaintances.
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). 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 the working-class; which were their traditional group of voters. By 2011, almost three-quarters of British people were also found to identify themselves as middle-class.
Main articles: Marxism and Marxian class theory
In Marxism, which 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. Marxist writers have used the term in two distinct but related ways. In the first sense it is used for the bourgeoisie, the urban merchant and professional class that stood between the aristocracy and the proletariat in the Marxist model. However, in modern developed countries, some Marxist writers specify the petite bourgeoisie – either owners of small property who may not employ wage labor or laboring managers – as the "middle class" between the ruling and working classes. Marx himself regarded this version of the "middle class" simultaneously as exploited workers and supervisors of exploitation.
Pioneer 20th century American Marxist theoreticianLouis 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." Included in this social category, from Fraina's perspective, were "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. 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."
According to Christopher B. Doob, a sociology writer, the middle-class grooms each future generation to take over from the previous one. He states that, to do this the middle class have almost developed a system for turning children of the middle-class into successful citizens. Allegedly those who are categorized under the American middle-class give education great importance, and value success in education as one of the chief factors in establishing the middle-class life. Supposedly the parents place a strong emphasis on the significance of quality education and its effects on success later in life. He believes that the best way to understand education through the eyes of middle-class citizens would be through social reproduction as middle-class parents breed their own offspring to become successful members of the middle-class. Members of the middle-class consciously use their available sources of capital to prepare their children for the adult world.
The middle-class childhood is often characterized by an authoritative parenting approach with a combination of parental warmth, support and control. Parents set some rules establishing limits, but overall this approach creates a greater sense of trust, security, and self-confidence.
In addition to an often authoritative parenting style, middle-class parents provide their children with valuable sources of capital.
Parents of middle-class children make use of their social capital when it comes to their children's education as they seek out other parents and teachers for advice. Some parents even develop regular communication with their child's teachers, asking for regular reports on behavior and grades. When problems do occur, middle-class parents are quick to "enlist the help of professionals when they feel their children need such services." The middle-class parents' involvement in their children's schooling underlines their recognition of its importance.
Further information: American middle class § The Professional/Managerial middle class
In 1977 Barbara Ehrenreich and her then husband John defined a new Marxist class in United States as "salaried mental 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". This group of middle-class professionals are distinguished from other social classes by their training and education (typically business qualifications and university degrees), with example occupations including academics and teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level administrators. 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 being 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. The professional-managerial class seeks higher rank status and salary, and tend to have incomes above the average for their country.
Compare the term "managerial caste".
Recent global growth
Phrase: Kelas menengah ngehe
"Awful middle class" in Bahasa Indonesia
Don’t care how, I want it now! It is this conflict between thriftiness and a desire for status and prestige that often sees them derided as ngehe (awful). Middle class people often contribute to the very problems that they are so vocal about. Additionally, they are often insensitive to the needs of poor and marginalised, and are often reluctant to participate in community remediation activities. This hypocrisy and apparent lack of concern for social justice is what makes others brand them ngehe (awful).
In February 2009, The Economist announced 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 rich 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.
The Economist's article pointed out that in many emerging countries the middle class has not grown incrementally, but explosively. The rapid growth results from the fact that the majority of the people fall into the middle of a left-skewed bell-shaped curve, and when the peak of the population curve crosses the threshold into the middle class, the number of people in the middle class grows enormously. In addition, when the curve crosses the threshold, economic forces cause the bulge to become taller as incomes at that level grow faster than incomes in other ranges. The point at which the poor start entering the middle class by the millions is 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 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 enormously 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.
As the American middle class is estimated at approximately 45% of the population,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 estimated that 1.8 billion people were now members of the global middle class. 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.
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.”
In 2012, the middle class in Russia was estimated as 15% of the whole population. Due to sustainable growth, the pre-crisis level was exceeded. 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."
A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) estimated that 19% of Chinese were middle class in 2003, including any household with assets worth between $18,000 and $36,000.
According to a 2012 study by the German Development Institute, the middle class in India constituted 8% of the population in 2012.
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. In South Africa, a report conducted by the Institute for Race Relations in 2015 estimated that between 10%-20% of South Africans are middle class, based on various criteria. An earlier study estimated that in 2008 21.3% of South Africans were members of the middle class.
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%.
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.
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.
Middle-class shares by income and wealth
The American middle class is smaller than 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.
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.
The numbers below reflect the middle, upper, and lower share of all adults by country by net wealth (not income). 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.
^ *1: (Middle class and above) - (Middle class)
^ *2: 100 - (Middle class and above)
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When the media talks about money and the economy, the term “middle class” is one that’s frequently mentioned. We think of middle-class people as average, ordinary people, so it’s natural for us to evaluate financial situations, policies, and predicaments in terms of how they affect the middle class.
College costs and financial aid are no exception. When we consider whether a college education is affordable, we’re generally thinking about whether it’s affordable for an average, ordinary, middle-class family.
But what is the middle class? You may feel like a middle-class person, but will colleges agree that you fall into that category? And how might your socioeconomic class affect your college admissions and financial aid prospects? Read on to find out.
Defining the Middle Class
Most people think of someone who’s middle class as someone who is neither rich nor poor. A middle-class family might have a relatively comfortable lifestyle in which they can afford the necessities as well as a treat now and then. However, they could still be financially limited in important ways, and unable to afford every luxury.
Technically defining the middle class gets a little more specific — and complicated. The well-regarded Pew Research Institute defines a middle-class family income for a family of four as roughly $46,960 to $140,900 per year, so you can use that figure as a starting point when considering whether your family is truly middle class.
Your family’s assets and liabilities — their cash reserves, investments, and property, balanced against their debts — also matter, and some experts prefer to define socioeconomic class based on this measure of wealth. According to one evaluation, middle-class families are those who have less than $400,100 in assets, but more than $0, meaning their assets outweigh their debts.
Do those statistics surprise you? If so, you’re not alone. The fact is that more people consider themselves to be middle class than actually are middle class (according to most definitions). Particularly if you’re young and don’t know much about how the adults in your family handle their finances (or what the full extent of their assets and debts might be), it’s easy to assume that you’re middle class, even when your income and lifestyle are actually outside of that category.
Of course, income and assets don’t always map directly to lifestyle in the real world. Some geographic areas have far higher costs of living than others. Other factors, such as the size of your family and whether you have unusually high necessary expenses (such as medical costs), also influence what you can actually afford in practice.
However, these financial guidelines are a good place to start when you’re trying to better understand what constitutes a middle-class family. They’re also useful in helping you figure out what colleges mean when they tout financial aid options for the “average” middle-class family.
How can my socioeconomic class affect my admissions decision?
In most cases, the answer to this question is simple: it doesn’t. No college will explicitly use socioeconomic class as a basis for admissions decisions. It doesn’t make sense for them to do so — it wouldn’t result in the highest-quality or best-matched student body; it would inhibit diversity on campus, and it would definitely result in bad press. It’s against the stated policies of most colleges, and in some cases, it’s against the law.
However, there are two possible exceptions. One is the case of need-aware admissions policies. The other is when your financial status has significantly affected your high school activities and opportunities in a way that colleges need to take into account.
Colleges with need-aware admissions policiesmay make admissions decisions based in part upon your ability to pay. This is typically because they have limited funding available for financial aid and can’t afford to cover the needs of many students, so they’re dependent upon having a certain number of students pay their own way. You’re more likely to encounter need-aware policies if you’re an international applicant or if you’re applying as a transfer student.
The opposite of need-aware admissions is known as a need-blind admissions policy, in which admission is unconnected to your ability to pay. For more information on what this difference can mean for you, check out the CollegeVine blog post Financial Aid: Need-Blind vs. Need-Aware Admissions.
Another way that your socioeconomic status may affect your admissions prospects is if admissions officers realize that financial factors have limited your access to advantages and opportunities in high school. They might become aware of this fact because they’re familiar with the demographics of your town or school, from a teacher or counselor recommendation, or from an essay in which you directly address the subject — which might be a good idea.
If admissions officers know that your financial situation restricted your options in high school, they’ll be able to interpret the rest of your application in that light, and they may be even more impressed if you’ve nevertheless been able to put together a competitive profile. Colleges are interested not only in what you’ve accomplished, objectively speaking, but also in how you’ve dealt with the particular opportunities and obstacles that you’ve personally encountered.
This isn’t to say that colleges have lower admissions standards for students from less affluent backgrounds. All it means is that colleges understand that not everyone has access to the same set of opportunities in high school, and that this fact will affect your eventual applicant profile. They’re not going to use your socioeconomic status against you, but they may take it into account when trying to better understand your background and what you made of it.