Within capitalism, the «middle class» initially referred to the bourgeoisie; Later, with the increased differentiation of classes, as capitalist societies developed, the term became synonymous with the term petty bourgeoisie. The cycles of expansion and recession of capitalist economies lead to the periodic (and more or less temporary) impoverishment and proletarianization of much of the petty-bourgeois world, leading them to go back and forth between the working class and petty-bourgeois status. Typical modern definitions of the «middle class» tend to ignore the fact that the classical petty bourgeoisie is and always has owned a small and medium-sized enterprise whose income comes almost entirely from the employment of workers; The «middle class» referred to the combination of the labor aristocracy, professionals and salaried employees. The term «middle class» is first attested in James Bradshaw`s Pamphlet Scheme of 1745 to prevent Irish wool from seeping into France. [5] [6] Another expression used in early modern Europe was «the mediocre variety». [7] [8] [9] Wealth-based definitions seem to resonate with the general public. A survey by Charles Schwab suggests that residents of America`s largest cities think it takes a net worth of between $500,000 and $1 million just to be «financially comfortable» in their area, and somewhere between $2 million and $4 million to be «rich.» Wealth can relieve anxiety. An April 2019 OECD report indicates that millennials are being pushed out of the middle class across the Western world. [39] Instead of linking the definition of middle class to median income, some researchers prefer to examine a fixed portion of the distribution.

A common approach is to divide the population into fifths by income to produce quintiles. The middle class can then be defined as a combination of these quintiles. The narrowest definition is only for the middle quintile: in 2016, this group ranged from an annual before-tax household income of $55,000 to $85,000 in a three-equivalent household. (Note that this figure is almost identical to the household income range of 75 to 125 percent of median income.) While income is the most common cash measure for the class, followed by wealth, some researchers point to other approaches, including consumption-based definitions or those that account for vulnerability or financial risk. Meyer and Sullivan argue that spending serves class boundaries better than income or wealth: «Conceptual arguments about whether income or consumption is a better measure of the material well-being of the middle class or poor almost always favor consumption.» They discover that the U.S. middle class is materially better off today than it was in the 1980s: median consumption has increased by more than 50% and middle-income households have larger homes and better cars. Sullivan is cited in support of spending use of the middle quintile—about $38,200 to $49,900 for a four-person household—as a definition of middle class. Based on this, it`s not what we bring home that counts, but what we can buy. Other studies focus on a degree of vulnerability to poverty or income fluctuations, or on the economic progress of individuals or families over time.

(We`ll return to these specific issues of volatility, risk, and vulnerability in a later article.) According to a 2014 study by Simon Freemantle, an economist at Standard Bank, a total of 15.3 million households in 11 African countries surveyed are middle class. These include Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. [47] In South Africa, a 2015 report by the Institute for Race Relations[48] estimated that between 10% and 20% of South Africans belong to the middle class, based on various criteria. [49] An earlier study estimated that in 2008, 21.3% of South Africans belonged to the middle class. [50] Karl Marx described the middle class as part of the bourgeoisie (i.e. the «petty bourgeoisie» or small entrepreneur) when he described the functioning of capitalism – as opposed to the working class, which he called the «proletariat.» The term «middle class» itself has changed its meaning over time, having already referred to individuals who had the means to compete with the nobles with the contemporary meaning closer to the upper end of the working class. A widespread ideal among the middle class is that it is possible to increase their incomes through career advancement and higher wages in the upper economic strata. However, the pace of these advancement efforts has changed over the decades with the cost of goods and services and, in some cases, has outpaced wage growth.

Income-based definitions themselves tend to rely on one of four main approaches: While most antiquities tended to have two distinct classes, nobility and workers, modern industrial societies also have a middle class. The definition of this economic group is somewhat vague: middle-class people work for a living and are not rich, but they are not poor and struggle to survive. Although about 60% of Americans are somewhere in the middle class, the wealthiest percentages have a lot more money than they do. «I had a lively discussion with my publisher about how to name the different groups in this book. I wanted to call the middle class group because, well, they are. My editor pointed out that readers would be confused if «middle class» is a term we all use to describe ourselves, whether or not it reflects reality. So I agreed to call middle Americans—those who are neither rich nor poor—the «working class.» [10] Since the beginning of the 21st century, China`s middle class has grown considerably.