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The Fallacy of the Middle Class: Overcoming Social Resentment (V). Who is the Middle Class?

Have a beautiful tuesday, the last one of October. Today we will continue trying to peel the truth, as when we are peeling the layers of onion skins. Remember this is our journey to discover the definition of the Middle-Class and we are just starting.

“Wisdom from the birds”. An aquarelle handmade with love by Eleonora Escalante.

When we speak about a demographic profile of the Middle-Class (on a worldwide perspective), we are taking into consideration all the characteristics that we can quantify in relation to sex/gender, family size, age, ethnicity (race), religion, income per household, generation, type of occupation or professional classification and educational level. My aim for this week is to shake things a bit, to turn the variables of analyses in a complete different perspective.  Instead of converging to define the middle social class by describing each of the last variables, we will explore the middle-class through the eyes of those who use the Middle-Class demographic profile for their own purposes: Marketers (Marketing and advertising agencies), international cooperation entities, public government statistics bureaus and finally the consultants/researchers.  Each of these entities has a different purpose for using social-classes classifications.

Once people start to earn better salaries and leave the condition of poverty, they begin a journey, of elevating themselves. People leave the low-class, and they land into the the Middle-Class. But the Middle-Class is so blurry as the experts classifications who have tried to define it. If we use the variable income distribution, the Middle-Class is totally unpredictable. The Middle-Class is so wide, that it is too narrow to reduce its definition by what they do with the income earned. Particularly, the studious marketers, I doubt that we want to stick to the popular idea that “the middle-class” is characterized by the amount of things they can buy for their households, and particularly when the stamp pattern of consumption goes to consumer goods and electronics (everything from plasma TVs, cars, refrigerators, ovens, kitchen, etc).

The Middle-Class understood by the marketers. The marketing agencies all over the world are experts in knowing the demographic profile of their respective middle social classes, and other social groups segments. In the case of marketers, they do it because by understanding the geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioral considerations, they are able to segment consumer markets and appropriately design their marketing messages for each slice of the society pie.  Private companies rely on marketing campaigns to influence “buying behavior” so they can focus their marketing advertising mix in a right way. Marketing agencies are way advanced in these matters.  Nowadays, they are putting extreme dedication to micro-segmenting through social media data, instead of surveys or other traditional research tools.

Governments also want to measure the Middle-Class. For public governments, the Office of National Statistics must be one of the most transparent and modern bureaus of all their administrative affairs. This office must have a relevant budget, the best of the experts in multidisciplinary areas. This office should be responsible of a well-designed gathering information plan using several tools, not just through a census and its regular update, which is the key tool used for socio-economic classification and decision making. The importance of a National Statistics Bureau goes beyond the commitment of doing a good “data gathering”. All the rest of entities (named above) rely on this data.

The Middle-Class understood by the International Cooperation Agencies. For the United Nations network of organizations (including the World Bank) and other bilateral or multilateral entities, the social stratification comes as a result of an effort to measure and provide solutions to performance indicators on how well each country on earth is doing to alleviate its most crucial problems. These cooperation agencies are in constant search for donors and wealthy philanthropists, in consequence, the country classification is imperative. As I mentioned in my last post, the United Nations and several of its main agencies, have a United Nations Statistics Database. The same happens with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc. Also, the OECD produces year over year a basic statistics summary per country.

In general, and irrespective of what organization (marketing agencies, international cooperation entities, public government statistics bureaus, consulting houses, or intelligence units), the demographic and geographic profile of any social class is only the beginning of decision making. Until today, from all the demographic variables that I show you on my first paragraph, income distribution has been the pivotal factor analyzed. However, the big issue that all of us are facing at the moment, is that we have inherited a system of economic indicators, measured only in terms of income distribution variables. The consequences of understanding social classification based only in quantitative economic indicators are causing us troubles, because some nations or societies have higher or lower income profiles than others, and the thresholds of leaving poverty can´t be the same. In addition, just because someone leaves the international poverty line of US $ 1.90/day of its respective country, that doesn’t mean is Middle-Class from an integral perspective. That tell us to be cautious when defining “middle-class”.

According to experts from the World Bank: setting poverty lines seem to find that the cost of escaping poverty rises with average incomes. Source:

The World Bank has divided the nations into four income groupings: low income (LIC), lower-middle income (LMIC), upper-middle income (UMIC), and high income (HIC). Income is measured using gross national income (GNI) per capita, in U.S. dollars. Meanwhile the poverty line is measured in the amount of US Dollars earned/day. Let’s see how the World Bank classifies countries in relation to GNI/capita:

For marketers (who are interested in the capacity of consumer´s spending), they have tried another classification of countries based based on distribution of income and types of industrial structures:

Meanwhile in the UK, the social classes are defined differently, and recently classified by eight levels for which the type of professional or technical occupation. The variable occupation is considered its deployment (SEC-Socio Economic Classification).

If you wish to download the last three slides in PDF click here:

Beginning to understand a demographic profile of the Middle-Class from the strategic consulting perspective. Now that you see how marketers, governments, international cooperation agencies see who is the Middle-class, let’s proceed to understand how the strategists comprehend it. We will stop here, see you next friday. Thank you for reading to me. Blessings.

Sources of Reference will be provided at the end of the week.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY.  Nevertheless, the majority of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine.  I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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