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The middle class in contemporary South Africa: Comparing rival approaches

Author

Listed:
  • Ronelle Burger

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Cindy Lee Steenekamp

    () (Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Servaas van der Berg

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Asmus Zoch

    () (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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ronelle Burger & Cindy Lee Steenekamp & Servaas van der Berg & Asmus Zoch, 2014. "The middle class in contemporary South Africa: Comparing rival approaches," Working Papers 11/2014, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers216
    as

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    File URL: https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2014/wp112014/wp-11-2014.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2014
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Luis López-Calva & Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez, 2014. "A vulnerability approach to the definition of the middle class," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 12(1), pages 23-47, March.
    2. Sihaam Nieftagodien & Servaas van der Berg, 2007. "Consumption patterns and the black middle class: The role of assets," Working Papers 02/2007, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    3. Esteban, Joan & Ray, Debraj, 1994. "On the Measurement of Polarization," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(4), pages 819-851, July.
    4. Derek Yu, 2008. "The comparability of Income and Expenditure Surveys 1995, 2000 and 2005/2006," Working Papers 11/2008, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    5. Anthony B. Atkinson & Andrea Brandolini, 2011. "On the identification of the “middle class”," Working Papers 217, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    6. Easterly, William, 2001. "The Middle Class Consensus and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 317-335, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Abayomi Samuel Oyekale, 2015. "Factors Explaining Households’ Cash Payment for Solid Waste Disposal and Recycling Behaviors in South Africa," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(12), pages 1-18, November.
    2. repec:gam:jsusta:v:7:y:2015:i:12:p:15882-15899:d:59654 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. David Tschirley & Thomas Reardon & Michael Dolislager & Jason Snyder, 2015. "The Rise of a Middle Class in East and Southern Africa: Implications for Food System Transformation," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(5), pages 628-646, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    middle class; social class; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination

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