Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Metro Middle Class Melodrama:

‘SEC A’ was a term often used in marketing and advertising to describe a section of population belonging to the ‘socio-economic’ category of ‘well-educated in established professions’ with income level that of middle middle class and the upper middle class. There was also a category, SEC A1, which as the name suggests was the ‘well to do’ or ‘rich’ category.

A few years ago, I happened to visit one such family in Delhi who can be described as SEC A1 or ‘Professionally well qualified, both partners working in well-known corporates at senior managerial level, young kids going to an ‘elite’ school, owning a house and two cars, having domestic helps, a cook and drivers, foreign travels etc.’ However while talking, the lady of the house pointed to an area close by and said – that’s where the ‘rich’ lives!

This one comment set me thinking – do ‘rich’ people in the metros know they are ‘rich’ or are they perpetually looking at the next guy/ girl as The quintessential rich person?

I ended up harassing a few friends, both from corporate background and social sector with many questions on being middle class and being rich etc. The answers that I got were quite interesting especially from people with corporate/ private sector jobs. Sample these:

·         If money can multiply on its own, its being rich. Eg: property, gold, business etc. All salaried people including a CEO would fall into middle class
·         It’s not just money but money versus responsibilities. If responsibilities are less, you save more and can be rich. We need to keep working towards savings. Rich are those whose savings take care of responsibilities and allow to spend on luxury
·         The difference is between wanting a Nano and a BMW X series
·         If you have family money, then you are rich with an earning of Rs.50 lakhs because you are not paying EMIs and loans. If you pay for all your expenses, then you are upper middle class
·         Middle class can be defined by income status along with socio-cultural behavior; lifestyle might have changed but not so much change in thoughts and attitudes
·         Middle class people are always bogged down by EMIs, credits, loans etc.
·         Living in a metro makes you middle class even if you are earning a ‘good’ salary because of the expenses
·         I have never been comfortable with the concept of wealth, but yes my salary makes me fall into the ‘rich’ category

So if all of them are still middle class, who then are the rich? A TOI Calculator puts a person earning Rs.50,000 per month as belonging to only 0.33% of India’s population. Many researches (some links given below) indicates that in India, people having disposable income higher than Rs.10 lakhs per annum (NCAER) or people spending more than Rs.20,000 per month are RICH!

And, who are the middle class?

It seems, the actual definition of middle class has undergone a vast change since the days of our parents, whose generation gave the middle class a definitive character. Families with fixed income most of which went into paying income tax, the rest was tightly controlled between monthly expenses, children’s education which had to be good, and lots of savings for future. Travel for leisure would happen once in four years after calculated savings and meticulous planning and even buying Amar Chitra Kathas would be considered once in a while ‘affordable’ luxury. Socio-cultural behavior would be defined by the community that one stayed in, not venturing too far away from traditions. There were even aspirational middle class careers such as doctors, engineers, banking, civil services, lawyers etc.


With material aspirations, access to credit and loans, multiple and different career options, much higher incomes, ‘I am worth it’ marketing gimmicks and high peer pressure to maintain ‘standards’, the current middle class is undergoing an identity crisis. An interesting article by Prathap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express points to the deepening crisis in such ‘middle class’ careers and why it reflects the ambiguous position of the current middle class. As he mentions, careers are now mostly driven by aspirations of consumption rather than identity or meaning which once the middle class strived for.

Sadly, none of us belong to our parents’ generation of middle class ideology anymore.

As for my friends living in metros and people belonging to similar income category, I have a hypothesis – that even though they have moved into the ‘rich’ category long back, their middle class upbringing makes them feel very guilty of acknowledging their financial status even to themselves.   

Intersting links on middle class definitions:

Hilarious post on middle class hypocrisy:


  1. Very interesting. I was thinking about how one defines 'middle class' just hours ago.

    1. I am planning to read this someday....

    2. They're a bewildering buncha folks aren't they? Mighty interesting reviews on that page there for the book.