The declining middle classes - A critical analysis of a new debate about inequality and its relevance for West and Eastern Europe
Sociology University Trier Trier, Germany
The paper examines the debate about disappearance of the societal middle classes and asks, whether it can describe reality in both western and eastern European countries. The hypothesis of the decline or threat of the societal middle first was used to describe the growing income inequalities in the liberal countries. Now it also has gained attention to analyse the changing inequalities in other highly developed post industrial countries like Germany, that up to now are seen as countries with relatively equal wage structures, household incomes and life chances. It is contested, whether there is actually a decline in the income and job position of the middle or whether the debate is more a felt decline rooted in subjective insecurities and fears. The question in how far the position of the middle classes actually became worse or whether it is just a subjective phenomen, will be analysed first. A second step is dedicated to the debate, that we observe two diverging developments regarding the social position of the middle classes in the Middle and East-European countries on the one hand and the West-European countries on the other hand. Our hypothesis is: Whereas in the Eastern European countries the middle classes are newly forming, in the western European countries a social decline is visible. Based on indicators for both the objective and the subjective social position of the middle classes the hypothesis is tested. The paper is based on secondary data analysis of existing data sets like the LIS, ECHP, ESS, ISSP and other available.