14 Countries Where the Middle Class Is Dying or Thriving

two people grabbing hands
Which countries’ middle classes needs a helping hand? | iStock.com

We’ve heard repeatedly about the dying middle class. And with economic instability worldwide, it’s easy to see why. But how has the economy really affected middle-income people worldwide?

Pew Research Center looked at the rise and fall of the middle class from 1991 to 2010. It found middle-class fortunes are scattered and inconsistent across the board, the United States included. Some have prospered while others have tanked completely.

Pew suggests countries whose middle class is smaller see greater income inequality among their people and a poor economic climate. On the other hand, a larger middle class singles potential for more upward mobility and a better economy.

Middle-income people are known for heavily influencing a country’s successes and failures. So which countries have middle classes that are dying, and which are thriving, according to Pew’s report? Let’s take a closer look at the countries.

1. Denmark

  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 80%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 80%

Pew Research Center suggests Denmark’s economy remained stable throughout the past couple decades, ultimately withstanding the turmoil some of its European neighbors faced. However, the middle class appears to be stuck in limbo. As of 2010, the middle class continued to account for 80% of the population, the same as in 1991. On the positive, only 14% of the population is considered lower income, which is one of the lowest percentages on the report.

Next: See why this nearby country is experiencing economic trouble.

2. Finland

people celebrating
Despite perceived excitement, Finland’s middle class decreased. | Mikko Stig/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 82%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 75%

Finland, typically known for a strong and competitive economy, saw a decrease in middle-class representation. Today, the Finnish middle class only accounts for 75% of its population, compared to 82% in the ’90s.

Next: France’s middle class has seen growth.

3. France

A young couple looks at a smartphone in front of the Eiffel Tower
Paris | Lionel Bonaventure/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 72%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 74%

France’s middle class population saw a little growth throughout the 2000s, which is an accomplishement in itself considering how some of the other countries on the list fared. With just under three-quarters of the country identifying as middle class, the French enjoyed a 32.7% increase in middle-class disposable incomes from 1991 to 2010. However, its median household disposable income was only $44,129 in 2010, one of the lower amounts for the countries in the Pew report.

Next: See how European powerhouse Germany fared.

4. Germany

the Berlin skyline
Berlin | John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 78%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 72%

For a country with a powerhouse reputation, it might be surprising to know the middle-class percentage decreased in Germany. The national median disposable income increased, albeit barely, by only 0.1% from 1991 to 2010. Some point toward the German Reunification as the reason for such sluggish performance. After 1990, the government was initially very strong, but it deteriorated as unemployment doubled. The country raised taxes to account for the budget crises, and the middle class suffered as a result.

Next: This country’s economy is referred to as a Celtic Tiger for a reason.

5. Ireland

Group of men toast beers for St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland
The middle class has the luck of the Irish on its side. | Paul Faith/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 60%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 69%

Put a check mark in the thriving category for Ireland. The country’s middle-class percentage jumped from 60% to 69% of its total population. That rapid economic growth is the reason many have dubbed Ireland as the Celtic Tiger.

Next: Unfortunately, Italy’s middle class did not progress as well.

6. Italy

building in Italy
The Great Recession hit Italy hard. | Pablo Debat/Shutterstock.com
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 69%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 67%

Italy was a country that experienced a rough ride throughout the Great Recession. In fact, its citizens earned considerably less than their neighbors during the decades Pew examined. Even worse, from 1991 to 2010, its national median disposable household income dropped by 19.7%.

Next: This tiny nation outperformed many others.

7. Luxembourg

Luxembourg has a strong middle class. | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 79%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 75%

Those in Luxembourg have enjoyed financial freedom for decades. As of 2010, middle-class households brought home a median disposable income of $71,799 annually. The open-market system and emphasis on global trade have influenced the economy positively. But the recession brought dark days, which could help account for its recent shrinking middle class metric.

Next: The Netherlands is another country that supports a thriving middle class.

8. Netherlands

Man jumping on inflatables
Netherlands citizens are jazzed about the strength of its middle class. | Remko DeWaal/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 76%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 79%

With one of the biggest segments of middle-class workers in the study, 79% of all Netherlands citizens would categorize themselves as middle-income earners. The country also saw an 18.7% growth in disposable income rates.

Next: See why Norway recovered more quickly than most countries after the recession.

9. Norway

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway | Cornelius Poppe/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 81%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 80%

Norway withstood a milder recession compared to its neighbors, and the economy recovered quickly as a result. Thus, Norway comes out smelling like roses post-recession. Its median disposable household income was $52,304 in 2010, increasing a whopping 49.4% from 1991 to 2010. Yet the middle class population declined slightly.

Next: The Spanish might need more vino to withstand their economic troubles.

10. Spain

Two angry businesspeople disputing
The fate of the Spanish middle class is dismal. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 69%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 64%

Although its middle-class roller coaster ride through the decades wasn’t as turbulent as Italy’s, Spain’s middle class still experienced significant economic woes. The percentage of middle-class citizens dropped by 5%. And Spain saw a dismal 1.8% growth in median disposable household income from 1991 to 2010.

Next: The British are sitting pretty on the world stage.

11. United Kingdom

A bulldog sits pretty, just like the U.K. middle class. | Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 61%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 67%

As pioneers of the industrial revolution, it’s no surprise the Brits experienced significant economic growth over recent years. The 1980s and 1990s brought with them massive policy reforms. Monetary gains in the middle-income bracket were significant. The median disposable household income increased by 44.7%.

Next: And what about the United States?

12. United States

American dollars and flag
The American middle class makes more than most European countries. | iStock.com/alfexe
  • Percentage of middle class in 1991: 62%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2010: 59%

What remains abundantly clear is though the United States enjoys higher incomes for all classes than most countries, it gets lost in the middle of the pack in most other metrics analyzed by Pew. The U.S. government infrastructure lends itself to higher levels of income inequality, and the middle class saw only moderate median disposable income growth of 9.5% from 1991 to 2010.

Next: See how China is continuing its quest for world domination.

13. China

Tourists take pictures with their iphone on the glass-floor
China’s middle class population lives primarily in the urban areas. | Wang He/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 2000: 4% (urban households)
  • Percentage of middle class in 2012: 68% (urban households)

There’s no question China’s middle class is thriving. Although Pew did not include China in its report, a recent study done by McKinsey and Company reports by 2022, about 75% of China’s urban population will earn somewhere between $9,000 and $34,000 a year (a significant amount by its standards). As of 2012, only 68% of the urban population fell within that range. But due to massive expansion and financial reforms, this number has skyrocketed from mere single digits at the turn of the century.

About half of China’s working population earns about $2,000 annually, and spending comes primarily from the rich city dwellers. But a recent influx of jobs should give the poorest citizens a financial boost.

Next: What’s the deal with Russia?

14. Russia

Russia harbors mixed feelings on its economic fate. | Alexsey Druginyn/AFP/Getty Images
  • Percentage of middle class in 2001: 28%
  • Percentage of middle class in 2011: 37%

Russia’s middle-income population expanded, as reported in a separate Pew report. However, there is conflicting data on the strength of Russia’s economy, as Bloomberg suggests 60% of people polled would not feel comfortable making a large purchase when considering the country’s uncertain economic and financial fate.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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