Being middle class in India

By | February 23, 2015

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Are differences within the middle class, in income, education, and cultural and social capital, so wide as to render moot any ideological or behavioural coherence to this group?

Over the next two months, The Hindu will release the findings of a new survey on the aspirations and anxieties of ordinary Indians. Here’s a snippet accompanying this infographic:

Two things are striking about this finding: the contrast between respondents’ self-perception and objective reality and differences on the rural-urban axis (Figure 1). We disaggregated our sample into five income categories, based on self-reported annual household income. While any such classification is admittedly blunt, the results are nonetheless illustrative. Whereas respondents are more likely to self-identify as middle class as household income increases, a sizeable proportion of respondents across all income groups believe they are part of the Indian middle class. 47 per cent of lower middle-income respondents self-identified as “middle class”, while half of middle income and 54 per cent of upper middle-income respondents did so. Expectedly this declined to 48 per cent for those in the highest income bracket. Most surprising 45 per cent of those who were in the lowest income bracket self-identify as middle class, barely 3 per cent less than the richest income group.

Even within the same income categories, however, there are marked differences between rural and urban India.

I wonder what the implications are of these results which surprised the researchers, and also, whether this challenge of applying metrics which segment not matching up with actual people’s self image is one that we’ll also find in the African context.

 

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