Accepted paper:

Social class, life chances and vulnerability to poverty in South Africa


Rocco Zizzamia (University of Cape Town)
Vimal Ranchhod (Univ. of Cape Town)
Simone Schotte (GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies)
Murray Leibbrandt (University of Cape Town)

Paper short abstract:

This paper interrogates issues involved in defining a middle class in high inequality countries. We argue that economic stability is a defining characteristic of the middle class and measure the South African middle class as a group that is likely to have an acceptable degree of economic stability.

Paper long abstract:

The wave of upbeat stories on the developing world's emerging middle class has reinvigorated a debate on how social class in general and the middle class in particular ought to be defined and empirically measured. In economics, this debate has been focused on locating the middle class within a particular income or expenditure range, where debate over how to define appropriate class boundaries - especially the cut-off that separates the poor from the middle class - remains highly contested. The dynamic nature of poverty, however, has been largely overlooked in existing approaches. This paper aims to address this shortcoming. We link the definition of social class to an in-depth analysis of social mobility with a focus on poverty persistence and vulnerability to poverty. Our assessment provides a more differentiated picture of the rigidity or fluidity of social structures than that which could be obtained by relying exclusively on absolute monetary thresholds. By doing so, we aim to provide a bridge between existing economic approaches and sociological class theory - particularly the Weberian concept of shared 'life chances'. In this sense, the contribution this paper makes is both conceptual, by proposing a class schema with particular relevance for the emerging and developing country context, and empirical, presenting an application to South Africa using recently available nationally representative panel data.

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panel P13
The political economy of inclusion: poverty and the precarious 'new middle' in developing countries