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I've been recently caught going around randomly asking people this question...
Would you say you are middle class?
And I am surprised - and still unclear - about some of the answers.
Some people vigorously nod their heads. Yes, yes that's me.
Others shrug. Yeah, I guess.
Still others glared at me as though I said a bad word.
Some say, 'Hmmm, maybe upper-middle class. Can I say that?' (Yes, you can say whatever you like.)
A few - very few surprisingly - simply said, 'I'm definitely not.'
All these answers are expected of course. Nothing new there.
The odd thing, though, were the people answering these questions.
It seemed that whether people said yes or no or none of the above had nothing to do with their salaries. Or net worths.
Some of those who said they were middle class, I know for a fact were making much more or had significantly greater net worths than others who said they weren't middle class or 'shall we say upper middle'.
It made me wonder: How much money do you actually need to make to 'break out of the middle-class mindset'?
And the fact is, it is a mindset.
Often the 'no' came from people who had been raised a certain way. Went to certain types of schools...or lived in certain neighbourhoods.
If you're from South Mumbai or South Delhi, for example, even if you are barely making ends meet for yourself, you're definitely not going to say, 'Yes, okay, middle class. It is what it is.'
Many act like it's a privilege to add the 'upper' to the middle class. It's like a club you're born into. Or one that you feel you need an invitation to enter.
And once you do enter that club - maybe you have crossed a certain net worth, whatever that breaking point in your mind is, or you've moved to a certain prestigious neighbourhood or apartment complex, or send your child to an international school...whatever be your criteria (because there certainly is no real number) - then you definitely don't want to go back, even if your bank account is empty.
Others wear 'middle class' like a badge of honour. It doesn't matter how much I make; I am a simple man, an ordinary Indian, and I identify with the vast majority of my brothers and sisters.
So, of course, I started researching to see what others were saying. And I discovered a survey by the Lok Foundation (and others) that asked more than 69,000 people across the country whether they considered their family to be a 'middle class' family.
And the survey categorised respondents into five income categories, and found that not only did half the respondents in the lowest income bracket consider themselves middle class (45%), but almost half in the highest income bracket also self-identified as middle class (48%).
It makes sense - that is the nature of the middle class of course. But what's striking, the survey noted, is this...
Self-identification of class status is important because it suggests the possibility that Indians may behave in ways that are actually at odds with material realities.
Some of the sales staff at my family business used to tell stories about the simply dressed people who came into our stores. This was especially true in our shops in south India - Chennai, Coimbatore, etc...
They'd come in wearing simple white dhoti-kurtas. And they'd leave with bags of our most exclusive merchandise. They had taste. They had money. But you just couldn't tell. Then they'd go into the jewelry store next door and buy bags of gold jewelry.
I wonder what the people in white dhoti-kurtas would have said if I'd asked them, 'Would you say you're middle class?'
Perhaps a coin toss would provide a better answer.
So, today, I ask you, dear reader...
Are you middle class?
And if yes, how do you define middle class? And if no, I still want to know how you define middle class.
Regardless of how you identify, please tell me how you see this great behemoth that is the 'middle class'. Either way, leave a note below.
Image Source: Rob Marmion/Shutterstock
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23 Responses to "Are You Middle Class?"
Ms. Anisa Virji,
Before going into economic class one should first decide upon a certain standard of living for oneself based on one's own aspirations. ( That would be very relative. And that is why your article rightly points out that people with higher earnings classified themselves lower than people with lower earnings. )
Once this exercise is done then you can assess your economic conditions as below :
If your earnings are not sufficient enough to afford you the lifestyle you desire for your entire life span - then you are poor.
If your earnings are just sufficient to afford you the lifestyle you desire for your entire life span - then you are middle class.
If your earnings are sufficient to afford you the lifestyle you desire for your entire life span+ for occasional splurging + unanticipated emergencies - then you are what people call as ' Upper Middle Class'
If your earnings are more than that is required to afford you the lifestyle you desire for your entire life span+ for occasional splurging + unanticipated emergencies - then you are rich.
Coming to the mentality aspect of it, whenever a person's earnings improve he proportionately desires higher lifestyle ( that's human nature!) and so continues to remain in the same economic class he belongs to. This is especially true for the people from what we call as middle class and for obvious reasons too.
But for the people whose earnings decline, of becomes more of a prestige issue to admit the decline in economic status and so continues to claim and act as if he were of the same class.
I guess this explains the findings recorded in your article, regarding the people answering about their own economic classes.
Thinking a bit differently, I would rather classify my economic status under these categories :
a) Financially Insecure : People who cannot afford the desired lifestyle even after putting in full efforts towards earning.
b) Financially Secure: People who can afford the desired lifestyle by putting in the efforts towards their earnings .
c) Financially Independent : People who have sufficiently amassed wealth that they do not need to earn anymore ( factoring in the inflation, unanticipated major expenses etc.) .
Before I conclude, I want to thank 'Common Sense Living' for helping people like me (through their excellent articles) to achieve faster my financial goals.
According to me, being middle class is a way of life. Rather than defining it as a "section" of society, I would say it is an "attitude" of people belonging to that section. The society is divided into so-called "sections" based on income. But as truly pointed out by Anisa Ma'm in her article, some people with quite a moderate income have a sophisticated lifestyle. So I believe that middle class is an attitude. A person has to be born in a middle class family to think middle class. So what are typical traits of this class?
The first and most typical trait is "to be highly judicious about expenditure". Savings is the lifeline of this class. Among the words of wisdom passed on by the older generation of this class, one of the most vital is "Beta, you must save 60% of what you earn each month / year" The whole life of middle class people revolves around earning money, spending it very thoughtfully and saving rest of it in all possible ways.
Second trait is "to be highly conscious about surroundings"; and by surroundings I mean society. The famous dialogue "log kya kahenge" is a pet of this class. They want to have a clean image. Every major action of middle class people is taken after duly considering its social consequences. Middle class people will always think about reaction before action. They do not have any strong support system like the other classes and hence are always behave prudently. And here I would also like to add that maximum middle class people are law-abiders. Since they don't have elite connections or unseen political support, they are quite organized in their behavior. They aren't very powerful and have somebody to fear unlike other classes.
If you locate somebody worrying about non-payment of taxes, you can blindly call him middle class. This comes from two basic ideologies. One is the fear of law breach and the second is the learning passed on from older generation that "You should repay whom you owe". Policies like change in interest rates, crash of share market etc... affect middle class the most.
If you see someone struggling with the idea of which vacation to take; go international or stay domestic, he is middle class. He wants to make his family happy by taking them on vacation but at the same time doesn't want to spend a bit too much on leisure. Clubbing, partying are a thing of luxury and hence happen only "occasionally".
He will always prepare himself for contingencies. And hence, he is the lowest risk-taker among all the sections of society. Even if he earns a lot of money, he will think a lot before sizing up his expenses.
To sum it up, a person who has tremendous patience, respects values, fears laws, thinks about nature, behaves conservatively and is staunch proponent of "live and let live" is our middle class person.
A person whose dreams are very big but whose legs are always shackled by the virtues and some merciless truths of life.
On the contrary our finance minister is constantly remind us that if your income is upto 5 lacs rupees anually , you are middle class. It is sort of a definition emerging out from middle class vs annual income. Therefore our govt is trying to please the middle class voters ( believed to be highest no of tax payers in this bkt). The definition of middle class is a mindset if it is not connected to money earned and it seems no body is bothering to analyse ( futile exercise).
Hello Ms. Anisa, Greeting !
I read all your news letters. This topic is very interesting and wanted to add my view point. I donot thing about class, as I believe, where you are born is not your choice but by default. Even the poorest can be high class and the richest could be no class. I have traveled to so many countries and met so many from the richest to the poorest, you can tell what they are made of. I believe all what ever class, are born naked and will go naked. So the class bias, stands no ground. Only good or bad human beings. Period
Enough to eat,a decent shelter and no shortage of clothes..I. e. ROTI ,KAPADIA AUR MAKAN are in order but spending Rs.250 or above for a movie ticket seems like waste to me. Occasionally eating out is okay, but mindless spending for 5 star food is certainly not me. Would most certainly say I'm from the middle class.
Picasso Quote: Like to Live Like A POOR MAN with Lots of Money...
Person With Omniscience Omnipotence in Reality..
Yes, I am middle a class because I have clean and fresh food to eat of my choice (Roti), I have nice fitting and nice color clothe (kapda) and to leave peacefully in my own home. I have my one Home (Makan). I am continues growing financially and spiritually and I know what all my goals are. I have planned to full fill my wish and desire and goal. I believe in simple living and High thinking. Most importantly I have the access to the best information of the world either through book or website or through audio/video programme and financially also I am balanced so I think I am middle class.
To me middle class is who can fulfill there some dreams but not in full. For example they dream of a big house but cant affoerd a big house but somehow they manage to get a decent home on loan. Similarly they dream of a SUV but hardly manage a second hand alto. In short they had big dreams but not been able to fulfill them. But somehow they manage to adjust it and life there life happily.
Yes,I am middle class because I couldn't spend money freely on my family members as well as on myself even I have sufficient money due to fear of future requirements.
N K Patet
anybody who has to think twice about cost before buying his favorite shoe is middle class;
I think one is in middle class group if he is not dependent on govt. for health, child education, pension or any other Govt. subsidy and pays at least some amount of income tax. Means if you are not poor you are middle class.
How do you define Middle class? What is the criteria for classification? Annual Income/Annual spending/Life style
First time I look at which class I belong. I can't say for sure. I am not in a high income bracket and also not in low income bracket, so by income base, I may be middle class. I live the life with all its comfort and happy. So by that measure I may belong to upper middle class. I don't have any debt to pay and I do what I feel to do ,just for doing it. Which class it belongs?
" kudrat bhi meherban hai dariya dili ke sath" Better I will say I am class less.
Middle class is : They are neither poor- nor rich. They can still lead a decent life. All their needs are satisfied. Only trouble is that they cannot go on splurging cash on the unwanted wants. They have earned their money the hard way. They know the value of money. Those who have amassed wealth without really earning it, do not know the true value of wealth. They create imbalance and inequality in the society. Middle class know that the true wealth is experiencing life to the fullest - every moment! They make the best use of what they have. They have gratitude for all that Universe has given them. They manage money well.
The "middle class" mindset may obtained from mainly two things:- (1)Hereditary properties and believes and (2)The income of the individual. The one of above two categories is satisfied for the day to day requirements and up-to own a bike or car and some good studies for children but not attained the ability to international vacation/treatment and very high cost living etc are then also including their dreams and achievement of their mind and conclude them as middle/upper middle as they wish
Col Satyapal Sahrawat
Middle class is the soul keeper class of society.
Yes, in a sense, going by the label stuck on me and my parents for years together. I feel this is akin to the caste system that was forced upon people centuries back by a few who wanted to control others. This class label also was cleverly embedded in our minds by some who wanted to keep themselves above all. As you said, when you talk about South Mumbai, the picture that comes to one's mind is that.. Wow, such an affluent locality..!! I probably won't even dream of buying a house and staying there... even if it may be possible! Just like the caste system, we just accepted this 'class' as well. It's a mind set.
I have my flat in Mumbai, a decent car, a job past retirement, have traveled abroad several times, decent savings and investments,..... what does it make me?
I say middle class. There is a vast number of people with less networth than me and another vast number with greater networth. That has always been the case. Therefore, from my perspective, I'm always somewhere in the middle.
To clarify, I don't throw money around on pointless things. My travels abroad earlier, always were on work and in recent times, it is to visit/serve my daughter's family. It wasn't ever a vacation.
"Am I middle class?"
I'm reminded of the song: "Are you Jimmy Ray?" And the singer's retort in the next line: "Who wants to know, what wants to know?" I think a lot of your readers will say they are middle class, because that is the value system they grew up with. The nuances of Upper Middle or Lower Middle probably came later, and got prefixed as the case may be. Middle class implied that things didn't come easy, but then neither were the obstacles too overwhelming, if you had the will. Middle class meant that you were constantly reminded that your studies promised a brighter future, that you imbibed a steely resolve and strong work ethic and did not take things for granted. And you were constantly aware that if you let your guard down, you might slip from the middle class perch into whatever lay below.
Today, we might still be middle class in values and perception, in thrift and habits, but depending on how life has treated us, some may be sitting on net worths higher than their parents might have ever imagined, and some may be struggling to cope with costs and aspirations of the next generation. So if someone asks me if I am middle class, I shall counter with, "Why do you want to know?"
Mahesh Kumar Vyas
Yes, I am middle class.
By middle class what I mean is that we have a decent house to live, a car or motor cycle, enough clothes, shoes, enough money to buy food of our choice, no or very little loans, can give children most of what they want, can pay for doctor's visits etc.
Yup, I am from a middle class family. I've always been told that we are a middle class family while growing up. I am 44 and still growing and still being told by my parents that we are a middle class family.
Being middle class I guess is something that my parents try to instil among our joint family is to bring sense of modesty in our lifestyle be it the clothes we wear, the car you drive etc etc. I have come to accept it and am happy.
Depends on what one thinks is middle class --majority of us relate it to income, so if we are earning something which is enough for day-to-day expenses, but not adequate for any lump sum big-ticket purchases such as international vacation, new car etc --then I feel, we belong to middle-class--so in that sense, if we manage to maintain our standard of living , we are middle class. However if we consider middle class as a mind-set, I think most of us born to the service-class parents, will continue to be middle class lifelong, however much we earn.
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