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How rich is the middle? - The middle class is poorer than you think

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It is moderate, can save and go on vacation. Is that the typical Swiss middle class? Only in part, explains sociologist Oliver Nachtwey.

Defining the middle class in economic terms is easy: According to the Federal Statistical Office, anyone who earns between 75 and 150 percent of the gross median income of 6538 francs is one of them. So almost two thirds of the population.

The middle is a class that can live well on their income and is not dependent on state transfer payments. This is how sociologist Oliver Nachtwey from the University of Basel describes this population group. “You can achieve a certain level of prosperity, go on vacation, have a car or at least be mobile. You can save a little and take part in culture and education. "

In net figures, however, the situation of the middle class appears less comfortable. Nachtwey puts the middle class income at around 3,000 to 6,000 francs. With rent and health insurance deducted, there isn't much left for life in the high-price country.

The self-image of the middle class, a comfortable saturation, does not always correspond to the realities, according to the sociologist: "Because the middle class often also includes specialist salespeople, employees and small craftsmen who can find themselves in precarious situations."

The middle class is not doing as well as you think

The middle class in this country is less wealthy than is assumed, explains Nachtwey: “In Switzerland, too, people of the lower middle class have problems when they get an unexpected bill. Here, too, you can't go far on vacation and have to save up to buy certain consumer goods for the children. "

Oliver Nachtwey

sociologist

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Oliver Nachtwey, born in 1975, studied economics in Hamburg and did his doctorate in social sciences in Göttingen. He has been Professor of Social Structure Analysis at the University of Basel since 2017. His book publications include «Die Abstiegsgesellschaft. About the rebellion in the regressive modern age ”(Suhrkamp 2016) and“ Market Social Democracy. The transformation of the SPD and the Labor Party »(VS-Verlag 2009).

This finding conflicts with the self-image of the economic center: "It is considered a group that usually holds society together and has a rather balancing effect," says Oliver Nachtwey. “In terms of self-perception, she stands between the extremes. Between above and below, but also between left and right. "

A substantial part of the taxes is paid in the middle. «They are the most active in civil society, in politics. You are the top performers. I would like to add that the saleswoman in the supermarket is also one of the top performers, ”says Nachtwey.

The middle class is also often heavily in debt, not least because they want to meet their expectations and those of their peer group: a bigger car, a better vacation, a more spacious apartment in a better location. If these demands cannot be met, the center is also sometimes prone to political radicalism.

Middle class courted by politicians

With regard to political attitudes, the middle class is anything but homogeneous. To their conservative part he counts "the smaller shopkeepers, the self-employed who may have an electrical or a craftsman business". The counterpart is a new middle class, “which is more cosmopolitan, more employed, but also works in start-ups. You have a significantly higher qualification. "

Not autonomous

The middle class often speaks of personal responsibility and individuality. But she is more dependent on society than she thinks, says Oliver Nachtwey. "You can only live responsibly because you are socially cushioned." There is an old age and survivors' insurance (AHV), an education and a health system, and protection against abuse by the employer. "These social framework conditions are the basis on which medium-sized businesses can thrive."

In other words: They are not as self-determined and autonomous as many members of the middle class understand themselves. It's part of the whole.

Broadcast: Radio SRF2 Kultur, Context, 23.09.2020, 9:03 a.m.

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  • Comment from Tessa Salerno (Tessa Salerno)
    In sociology, one now speaks of a society divided into four. 1. An underclass that "muddles through" 2. The old middle class, on the other hand, lives mainly in the countryside and is increasingly losing prestige. 3. The new middle class are primarily university graduates * who are now active in research and development, media and creative professions or in areas such as medicine, finance and law. They usually live in larger cities and form the new middle class.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Walter Foletti (Walter Foletti)
    Almost 280,000 people are currently receiving social benefits and this number will increase dramatically in the future. That costs a lot of money and is mainly financed by medium-sized companies. This additional burden increases the fear of slipping. Should the middle class actually shrink even further, social peace is in serious danger.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Stephan Mueller (Shi Mile)
    "Anyone who earns between 75 and 150 percent of the gross median income of 6538 francs ..." and "Nachtwey puts the middle class income at around 3000 to 6000 francs." Hmmmm ..... what now?
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from SRF Culture (SRF)
      @Stephan Mueller The first number relates to the gross, the second to the net income.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Stephan Mueller (Shi Mile)
      Äxgüsi ... it's me again ... with these numbers that results in: net = 0.61 x gross.

      What are the 39% deductions from gross income made up of?
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. answer from SRF culture editor
      @Stephan Mueller Nachtwey calculates the net income according to which someone belongs to the middle class, roughly at 3,000 to 6,000 francs. Deductions would be contributions to social security, to the pension fund and direct taxes (federal government, community, church).
      Agree agree to the comment
    4. Show answers

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