The Buoyant Billions: How “Middle Class” Are the New Middle Classes in Developing Countries? (And Why Does It Matter?)
Middle-income countries (MICs) are now home to most of the world’s extreme poor—the billion people living on less than $1.25 a day and a further billion people living on between $1.25 and $2. At the same time, many MICs are also home to a drastically expanding emerging middle or nonpolar group, called here the “buoyant billions.” This group includes those (mostly in MICs) living on between $2 and $4 a day and another billion people (also mostly in MICs) between $4 and $10 a day. Although they are above the average poverty line for developing countries, many people in these new “middle classes” may be insecure and at risk of falling into poverty. This paper outlines indicative data on trends relating to poverty and the nonpoor by different expenditure groups, and critically reviews the recent literature that contentiously labels such groups as “middle class.” The paper argues that such groups are neither extremely poor nor secure from poverty and that such groups are worthy of closer examination because their expansion may potentially have wider societal implications related, for example, to taxation, governance, and—ultimately—domestic politics
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