Building Leaders

You are here : Home Global Village Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Being Middle Class in India

Being Middle Class in India

Article Index
Being Middle Class in India
Part 2:Being Middle Class in India
All Pages

 

Over the next two months, The Hindu will release the findings of a new survey on the aspirations and anxieties of ordinary Indians. The survey is the latest round of a multi-year panel study sponsored by the Lok Foundation and carried out in collaboration with the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

The “Lok Surveys” aim to track the attitudes of Indians over the next several years, as part of a significant new effort to understand the social and political reconfigurations taking place across India today. CMIE, on behalf of the Lok Foundation, conducted face-to-face interviews of 69,920 randomly selected Indians across 25 states and union territories between January and May 2014. Because our sample is about two-thirds urban and one-third rural, 2011 Census data is used to reweight the sample to ensure urban/rural representativeness.

 

 

The rapid growth of the Indian economy over the past three decades has led to a substantial expansion of India’s “middle class”. This has triggered a robust debate over who in India actually belongs to the “middle class,” its size, composition, and political and social behaviour. This is a debate with serious implications for economic growth and governance since a range of scholarship in diverse settings has shown that the middle class is an important driver of a country’s economic, political and social development.

 

But is the middle class anything more than simply a large group whose income makes it neither rich nor poor? Are differences within the middle class, especially in income, education and cultural and social capital, so wide as to render moot any ideological or behavioural coherence to this group?

This also happens to be a debate with no easy answers because social class is a conceptually complex measure; there is neither a universally accepted definition of middle class nor widely available data on the income of Indian households, as opposed to their consumption patterns. But even if acceptable measures and hard data could be marshalled, they would still be ill-equipped to nail down a rather elusive concept: whether Indians actually believe and behave as if they are part of the middle class. 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.

 

To investigate this, the latest Lok survey asked respondents from across the country whether they considered their family to be a “middle class” family.

 

To our surprise, nearly half (49 per cent) of all survey respondents believed their family is a middle class family. There was, as one would expect, great variation in responses across states. For instance, while 68 per cent of respondents in Karnataka believed their family belonged to the middle class, just 29 per cent of respondents in Madhya Pradesh felt the same. Self-identification as middle class is expectedly more prevalent among urban respondents (56 per cent) but the share of rural individuals claiming to be middle class is also remarkably high (46 per cent).