Brazil is booming, and so is its middle class. Between 2005 and 2011, more than 40 million people entered the ranks of the so called new middle class (C class), making it the biggest social group in Brazil, with a total of 103 million people, who represent 54% of the country’s total population .
Who are these people and what defines them as middle class – besides their wages and expenditure – is a question that politicians and sociologists are trying to understand, even though investors have already started to address that by shaping the answer with their commercial offers.
Nicknamed ‘the bright side of the poor’ by an influential social study , the rise of Brazil’s new middle class inevitably reflects a steady fall in inequality , as incomes are increasing the more in traditionally excluded groups of Brazilian society such as non whites, women, those living in the poor Northeast, in city slums (favelas) and in the outskirts of Brazilian cities.
Access to credit, formal employment and education are at the core of this remarkable socioeconomic change, which is reshaping traditional Brazil.
Brazilians from the new middle class are spending record numbers on consumer goods and services. Most of them are for the first time accessing ownership of traditional status symbols such as a car, a house, a fridge or a TV set. More than a half of these people have a bank account and 59% of them pay by credit card. Not only have they started to go to the cinema, have dinner at the restaurant, travel by plane or enjoy their first holiday travels – either within Brazil or abroad – but they are also increasingly familiar with technology and the internet.
As a survey stated, Brazil’s new middle class is ‘female, young, black and connected’ . More job opportunities and better salaries have significantly improved the education levels of the new middle class in general, and of women and non whites in particular. 68% of the young members of the new middle class studied more than their parents, and better schooling means higher paying jobs in turn (15% more in income for each year of schooling).
The empowerment of women is a remarkable cultural achievement in a traditionally male chauvinist society such as Brazil’s. Women are now entering the labor market in their scores, setting in motion a liberation process that is already pushing the government to devise new ways of supporting working women. Afro-brazilians too are benefiting from the economic boom and are gradually climbing up the social ladder, more frequently achieving professional success and social recognition.
Compared to emerging middle classes in other BRIC countries, Brazil’s is “a world middle class” – as economist Marcelo Neri said – “Being in the Brazilian middle class is to be able to consume what public services offer but with better quality in the private sector. It also can mean having a car, computer, access to credit, a cellphone. The main symbol is formal employment, a work contract.”
But the ‘bright side’ can’t be without a ‘dark side’, and the new middle class is rapidly unveiling its own. As credit is booming, consumer debts are soaring. Private schools and hospitals are thriving as public services lag behind, thus widening the gulf between the private and public sectors. Shopping malls are mushrooming everywhere in the country and prices in major cities are high for an average income. If the boom is not channeled into sustainable growth, the party won’t last for long.
This story is part of NOOR group project “The New Brazil“