What is Middle Class About the Middle Classes Around the World?

48 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2007 Last revised: 9 Sep 2008

Abhijit V. Banerjee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics

Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD)

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Date Written: December 11, 2007

Abstract

This paper uses household surveys from 13 developing countries to describe consumption choices, health and education investments, employment patterns and other features of the of the economic lives of the middle classes defined as those whose daily consumption per capita is between $2 and $4 or between $6 and $10. The data sheds light on differences and similarities between the middle classes and the poor and helps discriminate between various theories of the role of the middle classes in the development process. We find that the average middle class person is not an entrepreneur in waiting: while he or she might run a business, this is usually a small, not very profitable business. The single most important characteristic of the middle class seems to be that they are more likely to be holding a steady job. Perhaps as a result, they also have fewer, healthier, and better educated children. While there are clear differences in consumption patterns between the poor and the middle classes, there are also very strong resemblances within countries, and contrasts across countries, which might either reflect the importance of relative prices in shaping consumption decisions or the power of norms/fashions in determining consumption.

Keywords: investment, consumption, middle class, development

JEL Classification: O10, O12, I32

Suggested Citation

Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Duflo, Esther, What is Middle Class About the Middle Classes Around the World? (December 11, 2007). MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 07-29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1070124 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1070124

Abhijit V. Banerjee (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-252D
Cambridge, MA 02142
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617-253-8855 (Phone)
617-253-6915 (Fax)

Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-544
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
617-258-7013 (Phone)
617-253-6915 (Fax)

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD) ( email )

Duke University
Durham, NC 90097
United States

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