Who are the middle class in Zambia?
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The middle class is increasingly becoming a topical issue in Zambia. However, the lack of a definitive measure of the middle class in the country makes it difficult to have targeted policies towards this group of people, perceived worldwide to be the drivers of economic growth. With high and rising income inequality in Zambia, we define the middle class based on the median and on a ‘relative affluence’ perspective. Findings show that the ‘middle class’ (as understood in everyday usage) is not in the middle of the income distribution. And those who are in the middle are not ‘middle class’ (in the sense of being above some minimum level of affluence). Defining the middle class on the basis of the ‘actual middle’ versus ‘relative affluence’ provides vastly different pictures. This implies that targeted policy designs are required when referring to changes in the economic status of the Zambian middle class. If the middle class is conceptualised in terms of relative affluence, growing the relative size of the middle class would have economic benefits such as growing the pool of people with skilled occupations and raising consumer demand within the domestic economy, which could lead to higher economic growth. In contrast, if the middle class is defined as the actual middle group, then increasing the relative size of the middle class – many of whom are quite poor – would imply supporting economic policies that favour the poor and non-affluent and thus decrease the income gap. This view of the middle class provides an important tool for understanding the status of the ‘average’ Zambian and provides policy makers with a more balanced assessment of development in the country.