Middle class

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Under the collective term middle class, particularly in Switzerland and medium-sized businesses called, means those population groups that within a social stratification model modeling in the social structure between an upper class and a lower class are located. There are various concepts of stratification and no final, universally recognized definition of the stratum in the sociological sense. Hence there are also numerous ideas about the middle class. In the Anglo-American language area it is referred to as the middle class .

Historical and sociological

According to early feudal hierarchical concepts of a nobility and their subjects , from antiquity at the latest, an intermediate group developed that was neither high-ranking nor unfree and initially represented the concept of the citizen . This included a certain sovereignty over oneself and certain personal rights . From this later the general civil rights and the concept of the citizen as a population of the population developed, whereby the class-specific was finally lost.

Initially still part of the lower classes (so medieval “ bourgeois, farmer, beggar ”), the bourgeoisie of Europe acquired the character of a middle class at the latest with world trade at the beginning of modern times . Just as the nobility (for example, the lower nobility and high nobility ) differentiated and the lower classes are seen more diverse, so is occasionally further subdivided into an upper, middle and lower middle class. At the same time, the feudal class boundaries began to become increasingly permeable , and to allow social advancement as well as descent (for example in the money nobility and civil servants , but also in debt bondage ).

In the course of the industrial revolution , the feudal classes increasingly lost their importance ( abolition of serfdom , weakening of the nobility), and economic demographic criteria began to dominate the class models. This also meant that the corporate (legally defined) character of the middle class was lost. As a result of the changes in the world wars and globalization, the concept of the upper class shifted from the exercise of power to wealth and prominence , that of the lower classes to poverty and exclusion from social and societal achievements (including education ). The middle class remains in an exclusive definition of being neither assigned to one nor the other group, so it simply forms the heterogeneous middle of society, without an outstanding social situation , but with increasing horizontal differences also coming into the focus of sociology.

Within sociology, the simple three-way division into upper , middle and lower classes is rarely used analytically. In contrast, American sociologists developed refined 8- and 9-layer models in the 1960s.

Comparison with social class

In contrast to a class , a social class is not determined by a mutual relationship of dependency or a feeling of we . Therefore the middle class has not found its way into class models - for example in Marxism . In the definition of being neither upper nor lower class, neither rich nor poor, neither privileged nor underprivileged, the middle class presents itself as an inhomogeneous conglomerate.

This characteristic represents the peculiarity of the middle class compared to the - upper and lower - marginal areas of society, which have at least a certain common ground, in the Marxist sense have a class consciousness . Therefore, the middle class is not regarded as an identifiable political target group and does not develop any explicit lobbying , but neither does it attract any enemy images .

It is true that the Marxist theory, on the fringes of its two classes ( capitalists and proletariat ), distinguished the urban middle classes , the petty bourgeoisie and the peasants . However, these tend to be assigned to the lower strata. According to the Marxist concept, these are comparatively underprivileged and weakly influential, so that they do not threaten the proletariat in the class struggle, but also do not share its concerns.

Simple US models use the terms lower class, working class , middle class, upper class based on the Marxist understanding of class.

In 2017, Andreas Reckwitz describes two middle classes: the new middle class and the old middle class . The new middle class consists primarily of "highly qualified academics in the big cities with good career prospects, especially in the knowledge economy". The old middle class are "people with a middle level of education , often in small-town rural regions, with a more conservative-traditional attitude and lifestyle ."

economy and politics

In economics is among middle class (also known as SME) especially the one asset group understood that in relation to their income or their property neither as rich can classify still as low-income or possessions.

In macroeconomics and politics , the middle class is seen as a supporting and stabilizing social force. No agreement exists internationally manner in which the middle class is increasingly thinned by globalization and its reinforcement of the income gap , to growing social inequalities leads (see also New underclass , turbo-capitalism , culture of poverty ). In contrast, the middle classes are the new bearers of hope in the international development policy debate. However, it is also questioned whether the growing middle class can significantly advance sustainable development. In Europe, the middle class in the northern states is significantly more affluent than in the southern. For decades, the US middle class was the richest in the world, but was overtaken by the Canadian in 2010 . The USA has also lost its lead over the European middle classes.

French economist Thomas Piketty attracted international attention in 2014 with his publication Capital in the Twenty-First Century , in which he examined the distribution of income and inequality over the past 300 years. In all times of crisis he found social decline and impoverishment of the middle class, while the wealthy upper class became richer in every crisis through higher profits from their financial investments. The income gap is then a consequence of economic or social instability.

Income statistical determinations

The basis is usually the equivalent income as income that would enable every member of a household - if they were adult and living alone - the same (equivalent) standard of living as they would have within the household community. The part of the population that has a net equivalent income in a narrower or wider range around a mean value ( median ) is called the average earner or middle class ; the upper class has more income, the lower class less.

The upper and lower limits are set differently by different institutions. The World Health Organization ( WHO), for example, names 50 percent of the median (corresponds to the relative poverty line ), the European Union 60 percent of the median (corresponds to the relative poverty line ). Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for example, use the range from 70 to 150 percent, the OECD uses 20 to 80 percent of the income distribution (2nd to 4th quintile ), and the Luxembourg Income Study  (LIS) uses  75 to 125 percent of the mean net equivalent income.

In a global comparison there are also absolute scales: Goldman Sachs defined middle class households with a total income of 6,000 to 30,000 dollars annually, there are even lower data that are less focused on the industrialized nations, for example 10 to 100 dollars a day (3,600 to 36,500 dollars annually) . According to the latter definition ($ 10-100), 1.8 billion people worldwide belong to the middle class (a good fifth), more than half of them in Europe and America, and a good quarter in Pacific Asia. It should be noted that $ 10 / day is far below the Central European concept of a subsistence level, i.e. all people there belong to this (global) middle class. This means that such absolute and global scales do not take into account the local cost of living .

The economists Homi Kharas and Kristofer Hamel define a middle class life on a global scale as follows: You can afford things like a refrigerator, a washing machine or a motorcycle; a visit to the cinema is possible; Going on vacation is possible; a sudden illness or temporary job loss can be overcome without slipping into poverty. Between the middle class and extreme poverty there are the "vulnerable" (3.2 billion people): They can fall back into poverty due to an unforeseen event such as illness or unemployment. At the top are the rich (200 million).


Net equivalent income according to the OECD scale per year in euros in Germany (2005/2006)
Persons in household factor 70% Median 150%
1 person 1 11,200 16,000 24,000
1 person
+ 1 child <14 years
1.3 14,569 20,800 31,200
2 people ≥ 14 years 1.5 16,800 24,000 36,000
2 people ≥ 14 years
+ 1 child <14 years
1.8 20,160 28,800 43,200
2 people ≥ 14 years
+ 2 children <14 years
2.1 23,520 33,600 50,400

The middle class is not defined uniformly.

The Federal Government's Poverty and Wealth Report defines the middle class as those who earn more than 60 percent, but less than double the median income - the so-called median income.

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), on the other hand, names the lower limit 70 percent and the upper limit 150 percent of the mean equivalent income. One-person households with more than 2,700 euros net income per month (as of 2019) no longer belong to the middle class, even if those affected often do not see it that way. They can be called "wealthy". From a net income of 3,600 euros, science describes a person as rich.

Between the years 2000 and 2006, the mean value of the annual net equivalent income of an individual fluctuated around 16,000 euros.

According to research by DIW , the middle class has been declining more and more since the 2000s. In the 1980s, around two thirds of the population belonged to the middle income bracket. Since the 1990s, the extremes in income distribution in Germany have increased slightly in a "period of relative polarization" (1993 to 1999), especially in times of economic downturn. This was followed by a “period of absolute polarization” (2000 to 2009): the proportion of middle-income earners fell from 62 percent in 2000 to 54 percent in 2006. However, the proportion of the middle class has remained stable since 2005.


In Austria, the mean value of the annual net equivalent income of an individual (determined via the joint household ) in 2007 was just over 18,000 euros, in 2013 it was just over 22,000 euros; adjusted for purchasing power, this corresponds to 17,800 and 20,900 respectively (in PPS , the European average) Austrian middle class in Europe was fourth in 2013 behind Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland.

The Economic Research  Institute (WIFO) uses the range from 70 to 150 percent of the median of net household equivalent income to determine a middle class. This means that a relative earns around 1,100 euros net monthly to 2,350 euros net (14 ×), or around 15,250 euros to 32,700 euros annually (as of 2014). That includes 57 percent of households, around 5 million people.

In the more recent political debate there is also a definition of “who pays wage and income tax , up to the top tax rate ” (11,000–60,000 euros annually before taxes, ÖVP), “all incomes below 4000 euros / month” (up to 56,000 euros annually, SPÖ ), “ Those who do not belong to the top and bottom income quarters” (17.250–30.800, FPÖ) or “everyone who has to live on earned income ” (Neos). ÖVP, SPÖ and Neos see the middle class broader than the economic definition, the FPÖ slightly narrower (the Greens follow the WIFO), with the SPÖ well below the ÖVP.

According to a more recent study by the OECD ( Making Inclusive Growth Happen , 2014), Austria is the country in all industrialized nations where the middle class (according to the OECD definition) has been thinned out the most since the 1990s (1993 to 2009). This is mainly due to the increased tax burden in the middle quintile (middle fifth, middle middle class) and the high wage growth among top earners. On the other hand, the poverty rate (according to OECD) also decreased slightly. So the inequality has increased, but only in the direction of wealth.


The middle class - referred to in Swiss as Mittelstand - is by far the largest social class. According to a statistical interpretation by Swiss Radio DRS in 2011, around 60 percent of the population should belong to the middle class. This includes those who earn between 70 and 150 percent of the average equivalised disposable income. The equivalent income according to Swiss custom is the net household income, from which 20 percent is deducted for fixed taxes. For a one-person household, it was equivalent to 42,000 Swiss francs in 2010.



In Germany, a study based on data from the Sinus Institute revealed a separation into three living environments , especially with regard to parents' concern for their children's education . Middle-class parents often try to keep their children away from lower-class children. In the lower class, parents pay little attention to the schooling of their children, or they are unable to do so. The separation between the middle and upper classes is even sharper: Here children receive support from their parents, helpers and, above all, private schools, largely free of material restrictions.

See also

Wiktionary: Middle class  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • OECD: Being “Middle-Class” in Latin America. Development Center Working Paper No. 305, DEV DOC (2011) 13, doi: 10.1787 / 5kg3jcdx4jlx-en ( eReader In: keepeek.com ).
  • OECD: All On Board. Making Inclusive Growth Happen. 2014. Chapter What about the middle-class? P. 22 ff ( PDF In: oecd.org , accessed February 27, 2015; there p. 26 ff).

Individual evidence

  1. cf. User comment Lydia Croce: Mittelstand vs. Middle class. In: derStandard.at , September 1, 2014.
  2. a b c d Hans Rauscher: Middle class under psychological strain. Around 60 percent of Austrian households belong to the middle class. An inventory. In derStandard online, October 13, 2014.
  3. Lit. OECD Working Paper No. 305, p. 10.
  4. ^ Longing for earlier, divided middle class: sociologist Andreas Reckwitz explains the political unrest in Europe. May 13, 2019, accessed July 11, 2019 .
  5. ^ Henning Melber in E + Z / D + C: Development Theory - The Hype about the Middle Classes. In: dandc.eu , February 6, 2015. Accessed December 28, 2017
  6. Prosperity: America's middle class is losing top position in the world. In: Spiegel Online . April 23, 2014, accessed April 23, 2014 .
  7. ^ Nicolai Kwasniewski, Gregor Peter Schmitz, Marc Pitzke : New Wealth Debate: Something is rotten in capitalism. In: Spiegel Online . April 23, 2014, Retrieved April 23, 2014 (via the reception of the book by Thomas Piketty ).
  8. Lit. OECD: Making Inclusive Growth Happen. P. 22.
  9. ^ Luxembourg Income Study. In: lisdatacenter.org
  10. Lit. OECD Working Paper No. 305, p. 11.
  11. ^ A b c Brian Keeley: Rich Man, Poor Man: The middle classes - now you see them, now you don't. In: oecdinsights.org , September 27, 2013.
  12. Global middle class . In: DER SPIEGEL . ( spiegel.de [accessed November 4, 2018]).
  13. ^ A b Judith Niehues: Income distribution: The middle class is more stable than its reputation . In: The time . September 3, 2017, ISSN  0044-2070 ( zeit.de [accessed September 4, 2017]).
  14. Jan Goebel, Martin Gornig, Hartmut Häußermann: Polarization of incomes: The middle class is losing. (PDF; 469 kB) In: Weekly Report No. 24/2010. German Institute for Economic Research , Berlin, June 6, 2010, p. 3 , accessed on April 23, 2014 (8 pages).
  15. Psychology and Privilege - The Unpleasant Truth of Social Injustice. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur. Deutschlandradio, accessed on July 19, 2019 (German).
  16. ↑ The middle class in Germany is shrinking: fewer and fewer average earners and classic families. Press release. German Institute for Economic Research , Berlin, March 5, 2008, accessed on April 23, 2014 .
  17. Jan Goebel, Martin Gornig, Hartmut Häußermann: Polarization of incomes: The middle class is losing. (PDF; 469 kB) In: Weekly Report No. 24/2010. German Institute for Economic Research , Berlin, June 6, 2010, accessed on April 23, 2014 (8 pages).
  18. Bundesanstalt Statistics Austria: Overview of results: disposable household income and equivalent net household income. In: Statistics Austria . December 17, 2013, accessed April 23, 2014 .
  19. Average and median income by age and gender. In: appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu , accessed February 9, 2014 (the more recent KKS data are often corrected, so they differ after a few days).
  20. ↑ Distribution of income by quantile. In: appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu , accessed February 9, 2014.
  21. Lit. OECD: Making Inclusive Growth Happen. Figure 1.7. The middle-class has shrunk in some OECD countries: Income shares of the middle three quintile , p. 23.
  22. a b c Income share of the middle class is melting. According to data from the OECD, the pie of middle-income earners in Austria is shrinking. In: der Standard online, May 9, 2014.
  23. However, the risk of poverty according to the EU, which is closer to the median: If the high earners increase disproportionately, the former midfield is then inevitably further below.
  24. a b lit. OECD: Making Inclusive Growth Happen. Figure 1.9. Widening inequality does not necessarily imply an increase in poverty , p. 25.
  25. Are our middle classes impoverished? Broadcast portrait. Swiss Radio DRS , October 11, 2011, accessed on April 23, 2014 .
  26. Michael Borchard u. a .: Parents under pressure. Parents' self-image, sensitivities and needs in different living environments. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-8282-0424-9 ( reading samples on kas.de).