60m middle class people in Pakistan: study
A new study conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) has shown that the size of the middle class in Pakistan is around 60 million.
In her research titled, ‘Estimating the Size of the Middle Class in Pakistan’, Dr. Durr-e-Nayab, Chief of Research and Head, Department of Population Sciences, argues that the ‘middle class’ should not be confused with ‘middle income’. The concept of the middle class is a multidimensional phenomenon that cannot be adequately captured by the existing definitions based merely on households’ income or expenditure categories.
The measure suggested in the PIDE study is a composite of five weighted sub-indices of factors deemed to be important for being part of the middle class, namely, education, occupation, income, lifestyle and housing. Using an ‘expanded middle class’ concept that includes all middle class categories, Pakistan is estimated (based on PSLM 2007-08) to have a middle class that is around 35 per cent of the total population, which approximates to a substantial 61 million. The middle class is found to be more of an urban phenomenon with its size being much larger in the urban areas at both the national and the provincial levels.
Looking at the provincial differences in the size of the middle class, Punjab (37 percent) and Sindh (36 percent) have larger middle class proportions than Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(32 percent) and Balochistan (29 percent). Interesting trends, however, are observed in the rural and urban area. Among the urban areas, Sindh urban (56 percent) has the largest proportion of the middle class followed by Punjab (55 percent), Balochistan (50 percent) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (49 percent). When we look at the rural areas, Punjab (24 percent) has the largest middle class proportion followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (22 percent), Sindh (17 percent) and Balochistan (17 percent), in that order.
The study found strong association between the professional occupations and the upper middle and upper classes. This fits in well with the general belief that professional occupations constitute the upper-middle class. Other white-collar occupations are taken up by the middle-middle class, and the manual occupations comprise the lower classes.
The PIDE study stresses the need to do a comparative study in the region using the proposed multidimensional approach to gauge the actual size of the middle class. However, using the existing definitions, when compared to its neighbours, barring Sri Lanka, Pakistan has a bigger share in its population of middle class than all other countries including India. Of course, the Indian middle class is bigger in numbers given its much larger population size but it comprises a smaller proportion that falls in the middle class category. Hence, harnessing the gains that are associated with having a big middle class are potentially available to the country.
The study concludes by quoting from an interesting analogy on the middle class in Pakistan by Burke (2010)1 when he says,
“In Pakistan, the hierarchy on the roads reflects that of society. If you are poor, you use the overcrowded buses or a bicycle. Small shopkeepers, rural teachers and better-off farmers are likely to have a $1,500 Chinese or Japanese motorbike.... Then come the Mehran drivers. A rank above them, in air-conditioned Toyota Corolla saloons, are the small businessmen, smaller landlords, more senior army officers and bureaucrats. Finally, there are the luxury four-wheel drives of ‘feudal’ landlords, big businessmen, expats, and drug dealers, generals, ministers and elite bureaucrats. The latter may be superior in status, power and wealth, but it is the Mehrans which, by dint of numbers, dominate the roads.”
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