The middle class in contemporary South Africa: Comparing rival approaches

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP11/2014
 
Publication date: 2014
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
[protected email address] (Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
 
Abstract:

In the light of the economic, political and social significance of the middle class for South Africa’s emerging democracy, we critically examine contrasting conceptualisa-tions of social class. We compare four rival approaches to empirical estimation of class: an occupational skill measure, a vulnerability indictor, an income polarisation approach and subjective social status. There is considerable variation in who is classified as middle class based on the definition that is employed and, in particular, a marked difference between subjective and objective notions of social class. We caution against overoptimistic predictions based on the growth of the black middle class. While the surge in the black middle class is expected to help dismantle the association between race and class in South Africa, the analysis suggests that notions of identity may adjust more slowly to these new realities and consequently, racial integration and social cohesion may emerge with a substantial lag.

 
JEL Classification:

D31, I31. J15

Keywords:

middle class, social class, South Africa

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