The middle class represents the layer in between – they do not have enough to be rich, but on the other hand, they cannot be considered poor.
That layer actually represents majority of the population. Since it includes such a large number of individuals, the entire middle class needs to be further divided into:
- Upper middle class
- Middle middle class
- Lower middle class.
There are numerous differences according to wealth, education, and prestige between these sub-tiers. In this article, we’ll focus on the lower middle class.
What is the Lower Middle Class?
The lower middle class generally represents people with salaried jobs but who likely still have low savings rates and minimal disposable income. Often, this includes tradespeople and nurses.
Their consumption habits are often linked to stress and low incomes—they often indulge in drinking and smoking to allay stress from their difficult jobs and tenuous financial situations. While the upper middle-class see value in placing their larger disposable incomes into investment vehicles, the lower middle-class don’t see their small disposable incomes as enough to invest, so it’s often spent on small-scale entertainment, like attending the movies or going out for pizza.
They are also usually in families where both parents are working, earning two incomes, and focusing on getting their kids to college one day in order to assure a better position for themselves.
Scholarly Definitions of the Lower Middle Class
Lower middle class is defined by scholars such as Solimano as:
“Middle-class people whose incomes are closer to the poverty line” (2008, p. 3).
That is why they are much more vulnerable to fall into poverty, even though they are usually considered:
“A rather conservative, risk-averse group that seeks stable jobs and predictable economic fortunes” (Solimano, 2008, p. 3).
There is no simple way to define it since there are multiple aspects such as income, wealth, education, and prestige that need to be included. However, they tend to be seen as held back by the capitalist social structure from attaining greater wealth and social power.
Gornick and Jantti (2013) call them “the forgotten middle” (p. 9). Their vulnerability is commonly overlooked, since they are considered above poverty, but living costs (housing, education, health etc.) have been constantly growing – contrary to incomes.
Rapid Growth in the late 20th Century
The trend of growing lower middle class is noticed in Asia and Pacific, where Roman (2019) states that its share of population has tripled in size.
This growth is attributed to globalization. In countries like India, it helped raise opportunities to address gender disadvantages especially in social aspects. Sadly, women are still marginalized in official policies.
Globalization added to youth aspirations become more open and, as shown in Indonesia, lower middle class grew by almost nine times – 34.4% of the poor moved into the middle class (Dartanto et al., 2020). It contributes to the emergence of a civil society as an agent of democratization (Pinches, 1999).
Lower Middle-Class Lifestyle Examples
- Salaried jobs: A key financial indicator for entering the lower middle-class is the ability to secure a salaried job rather than an hourly wage casual position.
- Consumption habits linked to stress: Even though they are more conscious about health, lower middle class spends more on drinking and smoking, for example, which can be explained with growing stress and insecurity they feel on a daily basis.
- Spending on lifestyle choices rather than investments: They do not see value in putting their small extra income into investments as it’s not enough, so they instead they spend it on entertainment. Banerjee and Duflo (2008) see entertainment as one of the core examples of a lower middle class lifestyle, being the first thing they invest in after they reach a certain level of economic stability.
- Outer Suburban Living: While the upper middle-class will purchase houses in the more upscale neighborhoods, the lower middle-class can only buy into the American dream of home ownership if they move into the outer suburbs and less desirable neighborhoods where houses are cheaper.
- Low Social and Cultural Capital: They tend not to know many people in positions of power and wealth (a feature of social capital), and don’t have degrees from elite universities (a feature of cultural capital).
- Valuing education: The lower middle class commonly increases its educational spending since they see it as a safe way for their children to gain a better job and therefore, position. However, scholars such as Putnam argue that (2015) the focus should not be solely on the education level since some of the richest people in the world do not own a diploma – a lot of well educated families live in poverty, as well. Education should not be used as a sole indicator of a social class.
- The incomes of lower middle class are increasingly uncertain: People fear the fact that the automation and digital revolution may be replacing their jobs – especially low-income workers (OECD, 2019).
- Drivers of economic growth: The middle classes in all countries have been the key drivers of the global economy – it has been considered a “thriving catalyst for economic growth” (Roy, 2018, p. 32). They are the working masses required to fuel economic development.
The middle class has constantly been growing, and it is globally predicted to represent more than half of the world’s total population soon.
A strong and prosperous middle class is important for the economy and society as a whole – which is why governments need to focus more on helping them obtain better education, working conditions, better paid jobs etc.
Lower middle class people will pursue better working jobs in order to own their own homes, cars, to afford university scholarships for each of their children, and occasionally go on a trip or eat in a restaurant. However, they often need help in achieving all those goals by providing them access and protection from poverty as a boost.
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.