The Buoyant Billions: How “Middle Class” Are the New Middle Classes in Developing Countries? (And Why Does It Matter?) - Working Paper 309

October 26, 2012

Middle-income countries are now home to most of the world’s extreme poor, the billion people living on less than $1.25 a day and a further billion people living on between $1.25 and $2. At the same time, many middle-income countries are also home to a drastically expanding emerging middle, what Andy Sumner calls the “buoyant billions”—those living on between $2 and $4 a day and another billion people between $4 and $10 a day.

Although they are above the average poverty line for developing countries, many people in these new “middle classes” may be at risk of falling into poverty. In this paper, Sumner outlines the data on poverty trends and reviews the recent literature that labels such groups as “middle class.”

Sumner argues that such groups are neither extremely poor nor secure from poverty. The expansion of such groups may potentially have wide societal implications related, for example, to taxation, governance, and—ultimately—domestic politics.

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