Measuring the Elusive Middle Class and Estimating its Role in Economic Development and Democracy

Giovanna Maria Dora Dore

Published: June 2017

The middle class has a special role in economic, political, and social thought, but social scientists seem unable to agree on how to define or measure it. This article stems from an ongoing Johns Hopkins University project on populist and autocratic attitudes worldwide analysing World Values Survey (WVS) data to see what they reveal about the middle class–democratization nexus. Estimates suggest that between 1.4 and 2 billion people are middle class worldwide, with the largest shares found in North America (338 million), Europe (664 million), and Asia (525 million). Data from 4 consecutive rounds of the WVS for a panel of 30 countries from 1995 to 2015 do not support the theory that rising incomes are associated with increasingly open forms of political discourse and citizens’ stronger political attitudes and participation.

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