On the Nimbus of the Middle-Class Society. Perceived Stratification Realities and Perceptions of Social Conflicts in Cross-National Comparison

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Nadine SCHOENECK, University of Bremen, Germany
In many (Western) societies there has been an intensified academic as well as public debate on the middle classes for about three decades – not least because middle-class societies enjoy a nimbus of economic prosperity, political stability and social cohesion.

Generally, it can be assumed that a middle-class society is one with high economic welfare (dimension: level), a comparatively low extent of inequality (dimension: dispersion) and a large share of people believing to actually live in a middle-class society (dimension: belief). Compared to other more unequal types of stratification a middle-class society may therefore appear to be relatively classless. As a consequence, typical class-based conflicts (e.g. between people at the top of society and people at the bottom) may be less salient in a middle-class society.

Based on these assumptions my research question reads as follows: Apart from individual-level factors, how powerful is people’s belief to live in a middle-class society with respect to perceptions of social conflicts – and compared against country-specific (objective) factors referring to level and dispersion?

In order to tackle this question, I draw on data from the International Social Survey Programme 2009 and suitable macro indicators (as measures of economic welfare: GDP per capita, Human Development Index, government expenses as percentage of GDP; as measures of inequality: Gini coefficients for income and wealth, share of unemployment as percentage of total labor force).

Results from multilevel analyses of 39 countries prove that people’s belief constitutes a distinct dimension of reality and dominates indicators measuring level and dispersion with regard to national levels of perceived social conflicts. However, descriptive statistics reveal remarkable gaps between people’s imagination of living in a middle-class society and the actual share of households with middle incomes. This finding, in turn, indicates that factors capturing level and dispersion should not be ignored.