Middle class

Middle class

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The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

 socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

 and upper class
Upper class
In social science, the "upper class" is the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class may have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area.- Historical meaning :...

.

The common measures of what constitutes middle class vary significantly between cultures. In urban India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, for example, a family is considered middle class if it resides in an owner-occupied property. In the United States and Canada many families where the primary income-earner is employed in a white collar
White collar
White collar could refer to:* White-collar worker, a salaried professional or an educated worker who performs semi-professional office, administrative, and sales-coordination tasks, as opposed to a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor...

 job are considered part of the middle class. Moreover, most North Americans would take issue with a definition of middle-class which excluded the working class, i.e. 'classic Weberian'. (Hard work is generally held in high honour, fairness and equality are common law, and the North American economy was built upon traditionally labour intensive industries.)

Similarly, in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the term "working class" can be seen as carrying its own cultural status. Here the term middle class implies those people who typically have had a good education, own a family house, and hold a managerial or professional post. Those holding a senior role in a profession or ownership/directorship of a corporation may be regarded as upper middle class, but in England this is as much dependent on background and education. The upper class is generally regarded as the aristocracy and landed gentry; very rich financiers buy country estates in order to qualify. It was commonly held that to join the landed gentry required a distance of least three generations from the time at which money was made (especially if through trade) and that those entering into its rank acquired the manners and mores of those already established.

A persistent source of confusion surrounding the term "middle class" derives predominantly from there being no set criteria for such a definition. From an economic perspective, for example, members of the middle class do not necessarily fall in the middle of a society's income distribution. Instead, middle class salaries tend to be determined by middle class occupations, which in turn are attained by means of middle class values. Thus, individuals who might fall in the middle ground on a societal hierarchy as defined by sociologists do not necessarily fall into a middle ground on an economic hierarchy as defined by economists. As a result, intuitive colloquial and journalistic usage of the term casts a wide net and does not necessarily coincide with an academic sociological or economic definition.

History and evolution of the term


The term "middle class" has a long history and has had several, sometimes contradictory, meanings. It was once defined by exception as an intermediate social class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

 between the nobility
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 and the peasantry of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. While the nobility owned the countryside, and the peasantry worked the countryside, a new bourgeoisie
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 (literally "town-dwellers") arose around mercantile functions in the city. Another definition equated the middle class to the original meaning of capitalist: someone with so much capital
Capital (economics)
In economics, capital, capital goods, or real capital refers to already-produced durable goods used in production of goods or services. The capital goods are not significantly consumed, though they may depreciate in the production process...

 that they could rival nobles. By this definition, only millionaires and billionaires are middle class in modern times. In fact, to be a capital-owning millionaire was the essential criterion of the middle class in the industrial revolution. In France, the middle classes helped drive the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

.

The modern sociological usage of the term "middle class", however, dates to the 1911 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
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 and petite bourgeoisie
Petite bourgeoisie
Petit-bourgeois or petty bourgeois is a term that originally referred to the members of the lower middle social classes in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

. However, with the immiserisation and proletarianisation of much of the petit bourgeois world, and the growth of finance capitalism
Finance capitalism
Finance capitalism is a term in Marxian political economics defined as the subordination of processes of production to the accumulation of money profits in a financial system. It is characterized by the pursuit of profit from the purchase and sale of, or investment in, currencies and financial...

, middle class came to refer to the combination of labour aristocracy, professionals and white collar workers
White-collar worker
The term white-collar worker refers to a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work, in contrast with a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor...

.

The size of the middle class depends on how it is defined, whether by education, wealth
Wealth
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

, environment of upbringing, social network
Social network
A social network is a social structure made up of individuals called "nodes", which are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.Social...

, manners or values, etc. These are all related, though far from deterministically dependent. The following factors are often ascribed in modern usage to a "middle class":
  • Achievement of tertiary education
    Tertiary education
    Tertiary education, also referred to as third stage, third level, and post-secondary education, is the educational level following the completion of a school providing a secondary education, such as a high school, secondary school, university-preparatory school...

    .
  • Holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, chartered engineers, politicians and doctors regardless of their leisure or wealth.
  • Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house
    House
    A house is a building or structure that has the ability to be occupied for dwelling by human beings or other creatures. The term house includes many kinds of different dwellings ranging from rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes to free standing individual structures...

     ownership
    Ownership
    Ownership is the state or fact of exclusive rights and control over property, which may be an object, land/real estate or intellectual property. Ownership involves multiple rights, collectively referred to as title, which may be separated and held by different parties. The concept of ownership has...

     and jobs which are perceived to be "secure
    Job security
    Job security is the probability that an individual will keep his or her job; a job with a high level of job security is such that a person with the job would have a small chance of becoming unemployed.-Factors affecting job security:...

    ".
  • 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 pointers such as accent
    Accent (linguistics)
    In linguistics, an accent is a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation.An accent may identify the locality in which its speakers reside , the socio-economic status of its speakers, their ethnicity, their caste or social class, their first language In...

    , manners, place of education, occupation and the class of a person's family, circle of friends and acquaintances.
  • Cultural identification. Often in the United States, the middle class are the most eager participants in pop culture whereas the reverse is true in Britain.

The second generation of new immigrants will often enthusiastically forsake their traditional folk culture
Folk culture
Folk culture refers to the lifestyle of a culture. Historically, handed down through oral tradition, it demonstrates the "old ways" over novelty and relates to a sense of community. Folk culture is quite often imbued with a sense of place...

 as a sign of having arrived in the middle class.

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 British Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

, which grew out of the organized labour movement and originally drew almost all of its support from the working class, reinvented itself under Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 in the 1990s as "New Labour", a party competing with the Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 for the votes of the middle class as well as the working class. By 2011, almost three quarters of British people were also found to identify themselves as Middle Class.

Geographic terms



Geographic terms such as "Heartland America", "Middle America" and "Middle England" are used to refer to a concept of the middle class of a country being located in the centre of that country.

Middle America


Middle America suggests a small town or suburb
Suburb
The word suburb mostly refers to a residential area, either existing as part of a city or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city . Some suburbs have a degree of administrative autonomy, and most have lower population density than inner city neighborhoods...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 where people are predominantly middle class. The economy of Middle America is traditionally considered agricultural, though most Middle Americans now live in suburban locales, and a person may hold Middle American values while not living geographically in the Midwestern United States
Midwestern United States
The Midwestern United States is one of the four U.S. geographic regions defined by the United States Census Bureau, providing an official definition of the American Midwest....

, and vice versa.
The phrase Middle American values is sometimes used to refer to more traditional or conservative politics like family values
Family values
Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society. Familialism is the ideology that promotes the family and its values as an institution....

. Middle America can also refer to people who do not reside on the east or west coast of the United States. Middle America, rather, may refer to people within the interior of the country, and the phrase represents the views and values of those people.

Middle England


Though Middle England more commonly denotes the middle class of non-urban England, it also has connotations of "Deep England". The BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 described the Kentish town of Tunbridge Wells as the "spiritual home" of Middle England; correspondents on a rather insular outdated idea of England are often parodied by signing letters Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells
The term Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is a proverbial sign-off-name in the United Kingdom for a letter to a newspaper complaining about a subject that the writer feels is unacceptable....

.

Marxism


In Marxism
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

, which defines social classes according to their relationship with the means of production
Means of production
Means of production refers to physical, non-human inputs used in production—the factories, machines, and tools used to produce wealth — along with both infrastructural capital and natural capital. This includes the classical factors of production minus financial capital and minus human capital...

, the "middle class" is said to be the class below the ruling class
Ruling class
The term ruling class refers to the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political policy - assuming there is one such particular class in the given society....

 and above the proletariat
Proletariat
The proletariat is a term used to identify a lower social class, usually the working class; a member of such a class is proletarian...

 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
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

, the urban merchant and professional class that stood between the aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 and the proletariat in the Marxist model. However, in modern developed countries, the bourgeoisie is taken to be the class that owns and controls the means of production, and is thus considered the ruling class in capitalist
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 societies. As such, some Marxist writers specify the petite bourgeoisie
Petite bourgeoisie
Petit-bourgeois or petty bourgeois is a term that originally referred to the members of the lower middle social classes in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

– owners of small property who may not employ wage labor – as the "middle class" between the ruling and working classes. Marx himself regarded this version of the "middle class" as becoming merged with the working classes.

Recent growth of the global middle class


In February 2009, The Economist
The Economist
The Economist is an English-language weekly news and international affairs publication owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd. and edited in offices in the City of Westminster, London, England. Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843...

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 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 right-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
International trade
International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and services across international borders or territories. In most countries, such trade represents a significant share of gross domestic product...

, 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
Productivity
Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of production. Productivity is a ratio of what is produced to what is required to produce it. Usually this ratio is in the form of an average, expressing the total output divided by the total input...

 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.

As the American middle class
American middle class
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, more or less congruent, theories on the American middle class...

 is estimated at approximately 45% of the population, The Economist 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 and many other models.

In 2010, a working paper by the OECD estimated that 1.8 billion people were now members of the global middle class.

Professional-managerial class


In 1977 Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich
-Early life:Ehrenreich was born Barbara Alexander to Isabelle Oxley and Ben Howes Alexander in Butte, Montana, which she describes as then being "a bustling, brawling, blue collar mining town."...

 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 professional
Professional
A professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialised set of tasks and to complete them for a fee. The traditional professions were doctors, lawyers, clergymen, and commissioned military officers. Today, the term is applied to estate agents, surveyors , environmental scientists,...

s are distinguished from other social classes by their training and education (typically business qualifications and university degrees), with example occupations including academics and teachers
Teachers
Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers , one of the five Ascension Gift Ministries* Teachers , a British sitcom* Teachers Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers (ministry), one of the...

, social workers, engineer
Engineer
An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality,...

s, managers, nurses, and middle-level administrators. The Ehrenreichs developed their definition from studies by André Gorz
André Gorz
André Gorz , pen name of Gérard Horst, born Gerhard Hirsch, also known by his pen name Michel Bosquet, was an Austrian and French social philosopher. Also a journalist, he co-founded Le Nouvel Observateur weekly in 1964...

, 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
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

. 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".

See also

  • Lower middle class
    Lower middle class
    In developed nations across the world, the lower middle class is a sub-division of the greater middle class. Universally the term refers to the group of middle class households or individuals who have not attained the status of the upper middle class associated with the higher realms of the middle...

  • Upper middle class
    Upper middle class
    The upper middle class is a sociological concept referring to 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...

  • American middle class
    American middle class
    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, more or less congruent, theories on the American middle class...

  • Black middle class
    Black middle class
    The black middle class, within the United States, refers to African Americans who occupy a middle class status within the American class structure. It is predominately a development that arose after the 1960s, during which the African American Civil Rights Movement led to reform movements aimed at...

  • British class system
  • Gemütlichkeit
    Gemütlichkeit
    Gemütlichkeit is a German abstract noun that has been adopted into English. Its closest equivalent is the word "coziness"; however, rather than merely describing a place that is compact, well-heated and nicely furnished , Gemütlichkeit connotes the notion of belonging, social acceptance,...

  • Occupational prestige
    Occupational prestige
    Occupational prestige refers to the consensual nature of rating a job based on the collective belief of its worthiness.-History:...

  • Social environment
    Social environment
    The social environment of an individual, also called social context or milieu, is the culture that s/he was educated or lives in, and the people and institutions with whom the person interacts....

  • Disenchantment
    Disenchantment
    Disenchantment is a term in the social sciences used to describe the cultural rationalization and devaluation of mysticism apparent in modern society...

  • Rational-legal authority
    Rational-legal authority
    Rational-legal authority is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy and bureaucracy...

  • Normalization (sociology)
    Normalization (sociology)
    Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as "normal" and become taken-for-granted or 'natural' in everyday life. In sociological theory normalization appears in two forms....

  • Iron cage
    Iron cage
    Iron cage, a sociological concept introduced by Max Weber, refers to the increased rationalization inherent in social life, particularly in Western capitalist societies. The "iron cage" thus traps individuals in systems based purely on teleological efficiency, rational calculation and control...

  • Habitus (sociology)
  • Cultural determinism
    Cultural determinism
    Cultural determinism is the belief that the culture in which we are raised determines who we are at emotional and behavioral levels. This supports the theory that environmental influences dominate who we are instead of biologically inherited traits....

  • One-third hypothesis
    One-third hypothesis
    The one-third hypothesis is a sociodynamic term advanced by Hugo O. Engelmann, which asserts that a group’s increases as it approaches one-third of the population and diminishes when it exceeds or falls below one-third of the population....

    '
  • Middle class squeeze
    Middle class squeeze
    The middle class squeeze is the situation where increases in wages fail to keep up with inflation for middle income earners, while at the same time, the phenomenon fails to have a similar impact on the top wage earners...

  • Dominant culture
    Dominant culture
    The dominant culture in a society refers to the established language, religion, behavior, values, rituals, and social customs. These traits are often the norm for the society as a whole...

  • Cultural hegemony
    Cultural hegemony
    Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological theory, by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally diverse society can be dominated by one social class, by manipulating the societal culture so that its ruling-class worldview is imposed as the societal norm, which then is...

  • Cultural imperialism
    Cultural imperialism
    Cultural imperialism is the domination of one culture over another. Cultural imperialism can take the form of a general attitude or an active, formal and deliberate policy, including military action. Economic or technological factors may also play a role...

  • The Media Elite
    The Media Elite
    The Media Elite, written by S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda Lichter, details a social scientific study of the ideological commitments of elite journalists and the consequences of those commitments on both the reporting itself and on its reception by the public. The book states that...



Other:
  • Bourgeoisie
    Bourgeoisie
    In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

  • Classlessness
  • The Lonely Crowd
    The Lonely Crowd
    The Lonely Crowd is a 1950 sociological analysis by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney. It is considered—along with White Collar: The American Middle Classes, written by Riesman's friend and colleague C. Wright Mills -- to be a landmark study of American character.-Description:Riesman,...

  • Status paradox of migration
  • Producerism
    Producerism
    Producerism, sometimes referred to as "producer radicalism," is a right-wing populist ideology which holds that the productive members of society are being exploited by parasitic elements at both the top and bottom of the social and economic structure....

  • Xiaozi
    Xiaozi
    Xiaozi , is a Chinese cultural term describing a lifestyle chasing modern taste, living standards, and arts. Originally the term was a Chinese translation of petite bourgeoisie...

  • Middle Class Millionaire
    Middle Class Millionaire
    The Middle-Class Millionaire: The Rise of the New Rich and How They are Changing America is a book that chronicles the evolution of America’s middle-class over the last twenty years, and at how a portion of the middle-class is pulling away from the rest by amassing significant wealth...

  • Essex man
    Essex man
    Essex man and Mondeo man are stereotypical figures which were popularised in 1990s England. "Essex man" as a political figure is an example of a type of median voter and was used to help explain the electoral successes of Margaret Thatcher in the previous decade...

  • Little Englander
    Little Englander
    Little Englander is an epithet applied in criticisms of English people who are regarded as "xenophobic" and/or overly nationalistic and are often accused of being "ignorant" and "boorish". It is applied to opponents of globalism; for instance those who are against membership of the European Union...

  • Worcester woman
    Worcester woman
    "Worcester woman" is a political term used by polling companies in the United Kingdom. It profiles or describes a type of median voter, a white collar professional who worries about quality of life issues....

  • Deep England

External links