The Middle Class in Contemporary South Africa: Comparing Rival Approaches

Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers No.11/2014

20 Pages Posted: 28 May 2017

See all articles by Ronelle Burger

Ronelle Burger

Stellenbosch University

Cindy Lee Steenekamp

Stellenbosch University

Asmus Zoch

Stellenbosch University; University of Mannheim - Department of Economics

Servaas van der Berg

Stellenbosch University

Date Written: May 25, 2017

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 conceptualisations 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.

Keywords: middle class, social class, development, South Africa

JEL Classification: D31, I31. J15

Suggested Citation

Burger, Ronelle and Steenekamp, Cindy Lee and Zoch, Asmus and Van der Berg, Servaas, The Middle Class in Contemporary South Africa: Comparing Rival Approaches (May 25, 2017). Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers No.11/2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2973727 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2973727

Ronelle Burger

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Matieland, 7602
South Africa

Cindy Lee Steenekamp

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

Asmus Zoch

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

University of Mannheim - Department of Economics ( email )

D-68131 Mannheim
Germany

Servaas Van der Berg (Contact Author)

Stellenbosch University ( email )

Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch, Western Cape 7602
South Africa

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