Economists, social scientists and policy makers highlight the rapid expansion of the middle class in Latin America, but Jamele Rigolini, a senior economist at the World Bank, emphasizes that this growth is not exclusive to the region. In an article published today in Americas Quarterly’s Fall 2012 issue on the middle class, Rigolini writes, “while the industrialized world was facing a challenging decade, many emerging economies surfed past the global turbulences and continued to grow, lifting people out of poverty and feeding the ranks of their middle classes.”
According to Rigolini, the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—are all experiencing varying degrees of growth in their middle class, with growth in some regions more substantial than in others. When 50 million individuals joined Latin America’s middle class in the past decade, about 20 million of them were Brazilian. The middle class now comprises about 50 percent of the country’s population, making Brazil an increasingly middle-class society.
Russia and China’s middle classes have also grown remarkably, with the middle class more than doubling in Russia to comprise over half the population, and increasing from 10 million to 83 million individuals in China over 10 years—an eightfold increase. China’s middle class is expected to expand to 1 billion individuals by 2030, making up a predicted 72 percent of the country’s projected future population.
According to a November 9 World Bank report, the size of Latin America’s middle class has grown to equal the number of Latin Americans living in moderate poverty for the first time ever.
Nonetheless, inequality and poverty in the BRIC countries remains a formidable problem. China’s new middle class currently represents only 10 percent of its population. Meanwhile, in India, the 9 million people classified as middle class in 2010 still represent less than 1 percent of that country’s citizens. And Latin America continues to be classified as one of the most unequal regions in the world, with almost two-thirds of the population yet to reach middle-class status in some countries.
“Everything else being equal, when the proportion of the middle class in a society increases, social policy on health and education becomes more active and the quality of governance regarding democratic participation and official corruption improves,” Rigolini says. “Whether the change brought by the middle classes is always good for the poor remains, however, an open question.”