Middle class


Middle class

The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal 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 between cultures. In urban India, 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 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, 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.[1]

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.

Contents

History and evolution of the term

The term "middle class" has a long history[citation needed] and 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. Another definition equated the middle class to the original meaning of capitalist: someone with so much capital 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.[2]

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 and petite bourgeoisie. However, with the immiserisation and proletarianisation of much of the petit bourgeois world, and the growth of finance capitalism, middle class came to refer to the combination of labour aristocracy, professionals and 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, though 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 their leisure or wealth.
  • Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house ownership 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,[3] and has also been judged by pointers such as accent, manners, place of education, occupation and the class of a person's family, circle of friends and acquaintances.[4][5]
  • 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.[6]

The second generation of new immigrants will often enthusiastically forsake their traditional folk culture as a sign of having arrived in the middle class.[citation needed]

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).[7] The British Labour Party, 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 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. By 2011, almost three quarters of British people were also found to identify themselves as Middle Class.[8]

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 in the United States 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, and vice versa.[9][10] The phrase Middle American values is sometimes used to refer to more traditional or conservative politics like family values. 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 described the Kentish town of Tunbridge Wells as the "spiritual home" of Middle England;[11] correspondents on a rather insular outdated idea of England are often parodied by signing letters Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Marxism

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.[12] 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, 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 societies. As such, some Marxist writers specify the petite bourgeoisie – owners of small property who may not employ wage labor – as the "middle class" between the ruling and working classes.[12] Marx himself regarded this version of the "middle class" as becoming merged with the working classes.[12]

Recent growth of the global middle class

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.[13]

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 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, 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.

As the American middle class is estimated at approximately 45% of the population,[14][15][16] 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.[17]

Professional-managerial 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".[18] This group of middle-class professionals are distinguished from other social classes by their training and education (typically business qualifications and university degrees),[19] with example occupations including academics and teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level administrators.[20] 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.[21] The professional-managerial class seeks higher rank status and salary,[22] and tend to have incomes above the average for their country.[23]

Compare the term "managerial caste".[24]

See also

Other:

References

  1. ^ David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (1999)
  2. ^ Georges Lefebvre, La Révolution Française, 1951 1957
  3. ^ "Who is the Middle Class?". PBS. 25 June 2004. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/middleclassoverview.html. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  4. ^ "Survey on Class". Ipsos MORI. 19 March 2008. http://ipsos.co.uk/researchpublications/researcharchive/160/Survey-on-Class.aspx. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "Perceptions of Social Class (trends)". Ipsos MORI. 19 March 2008. http://ipsos.co.uk/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2404&view=wide. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  6. ^ http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article1955405.ece Discusses middle class snobbery as regards popular culture.
  7. ^ "Room for Debate: Who Should Be the Judge of Middle Class?". The New York Times. 2010-12-23. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/12/22/what-does-middle-class-mean-today/who-should-be-the-judge-of-middle-class. 
  8. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13626046 Discusses middle class snobbery as regards popular culture.
  9. ^ Coughlin, Con (2008-02-01). "Middle America warms to Barack Obama". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/02/01/do0102.xml. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  10. ^ Time: Middle Americans
  11. ^ BBC News e-cyclopedia (1999-04-13). "Tunbridge Wells: the spiritual home of Middle England". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1999/02/99/e-cyclopedia/318036.stm. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  12. ^ a b c Communist League Britain, Marxism and Class: Some definitions. undated. http://www.mltranslations.org/Britain/Marxclass.htm at §The 'Middle Class'
  13. ^ Parker, John (2009-02-12). "Special report: Burgeoning bourgeoisie". The Economist. 2009-02-13. http://www.economist.com/specialreports/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13063298&source=hptextfeature. Retrieved 2009-12-13 
  14. ^ Gilbert, D. (2002) The American Class Structure: In An Age of Growing Inequality. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; Thompson, W. & Hickey, J. (2005).
  15. ^ Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon; Beeghley, L. (2004).
  16. ^ The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States. Boston, MA: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.
  17. ^ http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/12/52/44457738.pdf)
  18. ^ Stewart Clegg, Paul Boreham, Geoff Dow; Class, politics, and the economy. Routledge. 1986. ISBN 9780710204523. http://books.google.com/?id=Iu0NAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA158&dq=Professional/Managerial+Class&q=Professional%2FManagerial%20Class. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  19. ^ Philip Green, Retrieving democracy: in search of civic equality Rowman & Littlefield. books.google.com. 1985. ISBN 0847674053. http://books.google.com/?id=DZJI9IXbLZwC&pg=PA14&dq=Professional/Managerial+Class&q=Professional%2FManagerial%20Class. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  20. ^ Hidden Technocrats: The New Class and New Capitalism. Transaction Publishers. 1991. ISBN 1560007877. http://books.google.com/?id=urStiXomlVsC&pg=PA41&dq=Professional/Managerial+Class&q=Professional%2FManagerial%20Class. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  21. ^ Between labor and capital - Google Books. books.google.com. 1979. ISBN 9780896080379. http://books.google.com/?id=-LPgx62t86gC&pg=PA5&dq=Professional/Managerial+Class&q=Professional%2FManagerial%20Class. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  22. ^ The general theory of ... - Google Books. books.google.com. 1998. ISBN 9780521590068. http://books.google.com/?id=TOtOkos1LP8C&pg=PA469&dq=Professional+Managerial+Class+salary&q=Professional%20Managerial%20Class. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  23. ^ Gail Paradise Kelly, Sheila Slaughter; Women's higher education in comparative perspective. Springer. 1990. ISBN 079230800X. http://books.google.com/?id=V-CKcuRAu8EC&pg=PA254&dq=Professional+Managerial+Class+salary&q=Professional%20Managerial%20Class%20salary. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  24. ^ Kay, Geoffrey (1975). Development and underdevelopment: a Marxist analysis. Macmillan. pp. 194. ISBN 0333154029. http://books.google.com/books?id=UO6xAAAAIAAJ. Retrieved 2011-01-01. "[...] the new managerial caste [...] as a force in capitalist society [...]" 

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