Leaning Towards The Middle? Collective Manifestations Of Normative Beliefs In Developed Countries and Their Implications For Developing Countries

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Nadine M. SCHÖNECK , University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
Christoph BURKHARDT , Sociology, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
There is a vast and ongoing debate on the middle class in the field of political sociology. Undoubtedly, studies on its role and functions should not be restricted to developed societies as the global importance of developing countries (with emerging middle classes) will definitely be growing.

We would like to take up this understanding by contributing a piece of groundwork research that focuses on the middle class in comparatively developed countries because it may serve as some sort of ‘reference frame’ for an improved understanding of socio-structural driving forces perceptible in developing countries.

With these preliminary reflections in mind, we use data of the International Social Survey Programme (2009; module “social inequality”) in order to compare perceptions and evaluations of stratification realities and aspirations. On the basis of five distinct types of stratification, respondents of 26 primarily European countries were asked for their assessments regarding the current and the desired stratification of their respective society. By performing multinomial logistic multilevel regressions we identify individual- and country-level determinants.

Concerning stratification realities gender, age, education and (subjective) socio-economic status prove to be significant predictors. On the country-level, the objective socio-structural shape (income-based percentage of lower, middle and upper class), the GDP per capita and social expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) turn out to be relevant. With regard to stratification aspirations results indicate that respondents in the majority of countries under study opt for a society with a broad middle segment – in fact, irrespective of any stratification realities. Thus, context effects impact solely on perceptions of stratification realities, whereas we observe a universalistic preference for the ‘middle class society’.

In our view an understanding of the normative leaning towards the middle class in developed countries may improve the comprehension of mental mechanisms and orientations in developing countries.