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28 August 2014
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IN PICTURES - Middle Class, or Upper Class?


National income distribution (%) in each fifth of the population

August 2003: With a per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) under US $1000, India is often regarded as a poor nation. Over 300 million Indians live with incomes comparable to the least in the world's other acknowledged poverty zone - sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the deep poverty of the country is borne unequally by lower income groups within this population. 46% of the income is accounted for by the top one-fifth of the people, while the lowest one-fifth accounts for only 8% of incomes. Even this breakdown presents only an incomplete picture; in fact the top 10% alone earns 33% of all income.

This large-scale deprivation has a curious companion - a grossly incorrect understanding of what the term 'middle class' means. The median family income in India is approximately Rs.4500 a month. By its conventional definition, the middle class includes families whose incomes lie between 75% and 125% of the median. Families with monthly incomes over Rs.6000 are thus above the 'middle class' line, and families earning more than Rs.8000 or 9000 a month are certainly among the top fifth of the nation. Still, among the urban salaried class that constitutes most of the audience for media outlets, many believe themselves to be members of the middle class. The view that they obtain 'middle class' incomes is widespread among many such families.

What's more, with proficiency in English largely confined to those who can afford private education, nearly everyone who can fluently say 'middle class families like mine' is almost certainly part of the economic elite.

Graph Credit : Padma Naveen

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