The evolving identity of Brazil's middle class
Defining who is 'middle class' in Brazil is a complex task, as the country's traditional middle class often sees itself as at odds with the new middle class.
(Page 2 of 3)
The traditional middle class sometimes looks down at what is now the new middle class, and some in the traditional middle class would consider themselves "culturally superior" to the new middle class: more American, tech-savvy, and literate than a more Brazilian pop-culture, newer to technology, and less well-read (or with little access to books). A traditional middle-class teenager, for example, might look down on a new middle-class teenager for liking sertanejo (Brazilian country music), rather than say, White Stripes, and Brazilians who have been on Facebook for years complain about the "Orkutization" of Facebook by the new middle class. It's the same dynamic you might find between urban yuppies in the US and lower-income working-class Americans living in rural areas, but more acute and on a deeper level, since the two groups co-exist and interact.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Rising Global Middle Class
In surprise landslide, Jamaican opposition wins back power
Parading back to Rio de Janeiro: the bookish and brainy
After dramatic 2011 in Cuba, will US-Cuban policy shift in 2012?
Boom goes the churro: Chilean court upholds damages for exploding sweets
Why did Hugo Chavez spam Venezuelans on Christmas?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A key example of the divide between the traditional and new middle classes is clear in this recent article from Época Magazine, where a São Paulo marketing consultant claims to debunk the "myths and truths" of the new middle class. The traditional middle class can sometimes show disdain for Northeasterners, from the poorest region of Brazil. This type of attitude is implied – he claims the Northeast is where the "real" C Class lives, and goes on to explain that they have different consumption (and cultural) habits than the middle class in other parts of the country. But he also makes some good points about why it's important to understand the C class from a realistic perspective: "These guys were living in poverty until recently. They were going hungry, and now they have a plasma TV in the living room." And he also asserts that because of this diverse middle class, Brazil "is in search of a new identity."
Meanwhile, despite the cultural divide between the traditional and (new) middle classes, one thing they have in common is the empowerment of women, a factor that is too infrequently credited for Brazil's economic growth. In this excellent article from National Geographic, Cynthia Gorney explains why fertility has dropped across the board in Brazil. It's not just smaller families that are helping women excel – with more educational opportunities and job prospects, they're flourishing. Women with previously little access to the formal job market are now entering in droves. As this BBC article about domestic workers explains: "Even with a basic education, job opportunities in supermarkets, telemarketing, cleaning companies, restaurants and offices beckon for women who would previously have worked as home helps for a middle-class family."
In a recent article for the Christian Science Monitor, Julia Michaels profiles a typical member of the new middle class: a woman who previously lived in a favela, received job training, and now earns $1,000 a month working at an Ipanema spa. After getting help from her friends and family to "pad" her bank account, she was able to afford to buy her own home. She owns a computer and sends her two daughters to private school. It's really illustrative of the changes of the new C Class, and indicated that culture and identity will change as incomes rise and opportunities grow.