The Middle Class: Does size really matter?

Go to the profile of Richard Reeves
Apr 19, 2019
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This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract and will feed into upcoming discussions at OECD Forum 2019.

The middle class might be developing a bit of a complex about its size. After all, rarely a month goes by without a headline about how it is “shrinking”. Sometimes the preferred verb is “hollowing out”, but that doesn’t sound too great either. 

The latest shrinkage alert comes from the OECD, in a new report showing that the middle class now accounts for just 61% of the populations of member countries, down from 64% in the mid-80s.

Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class

But is a smaller middle class a bad thing? It depends. The middle class might be contracting for three very different reasons; because there are more people on high incomes; because there are more people on low incomes; or because there are more people on both high and low incomes.

Reasonable people can disagree on this point. If we want to argue about income inequality, we should do so clearly and directly, rather than doing so at one remove through a debate about the size of the middle class.

Read Richard’s full Guardian article and find out more about his definition of the middle class 

  • What do you think it means to be middle class?
  • What kind of inequality matters more – the top pulling away, or the bottom being left behind?

Continue the conversation and help us co-create the agenda

All of the discussions you have on the Forum Network inform our thinking for the OECD Forum event each year – respond to Richard's questions and give your opinions by commenting to help us co-create the agenda!

Related Topics

Income Inequality Squeezed Middle OECD Forum 2019

Find out more about OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

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Go to the profile of Richard Reeves

Richard Reeves

Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Scholar

1 Comments

Go to the profile of Peter Tal
Peter Tal 6 months ago

There is a FACT - middle class is shrinking. It was proven independently. But we can keep arguing on the causes which lead to this result. The causes could be divided in major and minor causes having a stronger or weaker impact on the result. In my view, since very few middle class climbed up the major factor is that a certain amount of middle fell into lower and poorer class. The main factor influencing this income drop is most likely caused by the national and international economic factor, shrinking employment, automation and to a certain degree, climate change.