India: a middle-class nation?

Yesterday, Mint carried an editorial on the issue of whether India is a middle-class nation. The matter has been a subject of recent discussion, thanks to two new papers on the subject, including our recent chapter (which you can find here).

Here’s what Mint says about the two studies:

Two very insightful academic studies on the Indian middle class were highlighted in a recent article by Soutik Biswas of the BBC. Economists Sandhya Krishnan and Neeraj Hatekar of the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy have concluded from their analysis of incomes that there are 600 million people in the Indian middle class. They have defined the middle class as anybody living on between $2-10 a day, in terms of 1993 purchasing power parity dollars. The two Mumbai economists have used an objective measure to gauge the extent of the middle class, and their estimates are at the higher end of a bunch of similar estimates that analysts have made over the years.

The other study is by political scientists Devesh Kapur, Neelanjan Sircar and Milan Vaishnav, and their estimates are based on subjective considerations. Respondents in a large sample survey conducted in 2014 were asked whether they considered themselves to be middle class. Almost half the respondents said they did. The answers to the later questions are especially revealing. A large proportion of those who identify themselves as middle-class citizens believe that their children will have better lives than they did, that the social status of their family has improved in a generation and that India is prospering.

Interestingly, the editorial writers at Mint conclude the piece by cautioning readers about irrational exuberance regarding the rise of the middle class. The entire piece is worth reading.


New column: Do you call yourself middle class?

Over at The Print, Devesh, Neelanjan, and I have a column drawn from our recent paper on the Indian middle class. This paper uses self-identification as a way of measuring who belongs to the middle. According to this definition, what matters is what you feel (not necessarily what education or income category you belong to).

The folks at The Print created some very cool infographics using our data, such as this:


You can read the entire column here — and the paper on which it is based here.

p.s. The kicker is that the headline identifies us as “three economists.” I suppose we should consider this a free upgrade.


BBC: Is India’s Middle Class Poor

The BBC’s Soutik Biswas has a nice piece on the enigma that is the Indian middle class. Everybody acknowledges the enormous economic, political, and social potential the middle class holds in India, but almost no one agrees on who is actually middle class.

Soutik reports on some new research that tries to answer this question, including my new paper with Devesh Kapur and Neelanjan Sircar, which you can find here.

Read Soutik’s full dispatch here.

New paper: Being Middle Class in India

Devesh Kapur, Neelanjan Sircar, and I have a chapter in a forthcoming edited volume on the middle class in Brazil and India. Our chapter uses data from 2013 to study the Indian middle class. There is a huge definitional debate–in India and around the world–about what constitutes the middle class. It occurred to us that one powerful definition is what individuals themselves think about their class status. Using this concept of self-identification, we find that nearly one out of two Indians believes he or she is in the “middle class.” Furthermore, it turns out that self-identifying as “middle class” is linked to a very distinct outlook about the world. Here’s a snapshot of the variation across Indian states:


You can read the full chapter here.