Defining 'Middle Class'

Article excerpt

Is it a flush toilet? A cell phone? A shiny car in the garage? Experts use different factors to define the middle class.

Even experts can't agree on what the middle class really is. Is it income, or the way it's spent? Education, or social status? Can salary denote more intangible characteristics of the middle class, like being cultured and idealistic? The answers are complex and imprecise at best.

"[In India,] there is no direct correlation between your studies and what you are earning, what you are earning and what you are spending, what you are spending and how you are spending," says Yashwant Deshmukh, an Indian pollster with Team CVoter. Instead, spending is sometimes a function of social insecurity among relatively poor families or groups. "Even if they have this much of earning," he says, pinching his fingers close together, "in order to buy that kind of social equality they will spend." For example, the most luxury cars are sold in the debt-ridden state of Punjab.

In China, most analysts and economists use criteria such as disposable income; occupation; education; and home-, car- or stock- ownership, and end up with largely white-collar workers. …