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Brief Published: 15 May 2017

The Shifting Middle Class

In the US, fewer than six in 10 adults are classified as middle class

Separate studies into the growth of middle-income households by China-based job recruitment site Zhaopin.com and US-based fact tank Pew Research Center have revealed insights into the middle classes in Europe, the US and China.

Highlights from the studies include:

  • China’s Young Middle: Zhaopin’s survey found that China’s middle class (earning incomes of $14,500 to $72,500 annually) make up 41% of the working population in first-tier cities (with a GDP of more than $300bn and a population of more than 15 million). They also account for 14% of the working population in smaller cities. China’s middle class is younger than that of most countries, with more than half (52%) being under the age of 26. Middle-class incomes were most commonly achieved by those working in the internet, finance and real estate sectors.
  • Europe’s Big Six: Meanwhile, Pew Research Center’s study looked into the number of adults living in middle-income households (those with disposable after-tax incomes ranging from two-thirds to double the country’s median disposable household income). Among Western Europe’s six largest economies, these figures increased in France, the Netherlands and the UK between 1991 and 2010, but shrank in Germany, Italy and Spain over the same period. The UK’s middle class increased by 6% during that timespan, second only to Ireland’s rise of 9%.
  • US Divergence: Among the countries examined, the US is the only one in which fewer than six in 10 adults were classified as middle class in 2010. Meanwhile, compared with many Western European countries, more Americans were either in the lower income (26%) or upper income (15%) thresholds. Thus, US households were more economically divided than households in the Western European countries analysed. 

For more on emerging middle-class markets in China, see Moving On Up: Rising Demand for Premium in Emerging Markets and Lifestyle Changes Driving Chinese Spending. Read Decoding America’s Divide for insight into cultural and economic splintering in the US.