Defining and Measuring the Middle Class in Bulgaria

The middle class is a favourite topic of politicians and commentators, and while the argument for its role in the development of public and economic processes has been repeated numerous times, it has not always been discussed in details. But before we can assess the importance of the social group, first we have to know what people it is made of.

The goal of this research paper is to define and measure middle class in Bulgaria in recent years, as well as to discuss its political role. Following the review of a number of different methodological approaches for calculating the number of “people in the middle,” we have chosen one that uses the median net equivalised income of a household as the main indicator.

  • The obtained results trace the development of the middle class by income from 2005 to 2010. Specifically, the research shows that:
  • About 3.5 million Bulgarians live in households with median income (as of 2010);
  • These make up 46.9% of the whole population; those living with low income are 43.4%, and those living with high income – 9.7%;
  • The number of people who can be considered middle class has decreased by 200,000 during the period 2005 – 2010
  • The middle income class got wealthier during the economic boom, and did not lose much of its income during the first two years of the crisis (2009-2010)
  • To consider a family of four, consisting of two adults and two kids, part of the middle income class, its total monthly income must be about 2400 BGN (as of 2010);
  • The number of people living in households with high income has increased during the period in question (2005-2010) by about 2% at the expense of the middle income class.

In addition to the above mentioned results, the research paper also deals with the political role of the middle class. Specifically, the author argues the need for an independent group of people that must protect the liberal democracy without taking advantage of the political process. The author has also discussed the cases when the middle class can have a negative influence on the democratic process, namely, when the well-being of their member depends on the redistribution of public resources.

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The study was prepared with the financial support of the Young Professional Development program of Think Tank Fund (Open Society Foundations)