Sizing Urban Middle Class in India and Pakistan
Unfortunately for Pakistan, the size of the middle class was very small when it came into existence, and the country was dominated by a small powerful feudal elite created by the British rulers to sustain their colonial rule. And the urban middle class remained small for decades. The situation has, however, finally begun to change in the the last decade of 1999-2009 with a combination of increasing urbanization and faster economic expansion that fueled significant job creation in the industrial and services sectors to enable middle class growth.
Pakistan is now more urbanized with a larger middle class than India as percentage of the population. In 2007, Standard Chartered Bank analysts and State Bank governor Dr. Ishrat Husain estimated there were 30 to 35 million Pakistanis earning an average of $10,000 a year. Of these, about 17 million are in the upper and upper middle class, according to a recent report.
Urbanization is not just a side effect of economic growth; it is an integral part of the process, according to the World Bank. With the robust economic growth averaging 7 percent and availability of millions of new jobs created between 2000 and 2008, there has been increased rural to urban migration in Pakistan to fill the jobs in growing manufacturing and service sectors. The level of urbanization in Pakistan is now the highest in South Asia, and its urban population is likely to equal its rural population by 2030, according to a report titled ‘Life in the City: Pakistan in Focus’, released by the United Nations Population Fund. Pakistan ranks 163 and India at 174 on a list of over 200 countries compiled by Nationmaster.
Pakistan has and continues to urbanize at a faster pace than India. From 1975-1995, Pakistan grew 10% from 25% to 35% urbanized, while India grew 6% from 20% to 26%. From 1995-2025, the UN forecast says Pakistan urbanizing from 35% to 60%, while India's forecast is 26% to 45%. For this year, a little over 40% of Pakistan's population lives in the cities.
The urban population now contributes about three quarters of Pakistan's gross domestic product and almost all of the government revenue. The industrial sector contributes over 27% of the GDP, higher than the 19% contributed by agriculture, with services accounting for the rest of the GDP.
A 2008 report by UN Population Fund says the share of the urban population in Pakistan almost doubled from 17.4 percent in 1951 to 32.5 percent in 1998. The estimated data for 2005 shows the level of urbanization as 35 per cent, and CIA Factbook puts it at 36% in 2008, and it is increasing with 3% of the nation's population migrating to cities every year. With over 5 million rural migrants each year, the population of Pakistani cities in exploding, and Karachi has now become the world's largest city, according to Citymayors.com.
India's urban residents in 2008 residents accounts for 29% of its population, and the CIA Fact Book estimates it growing at 2.4% of the total population every year.
As to India's much hyped middle class, a new report by Nancy Birdsall of Center for Global Development says it is a myth. She has proposed a new definition of the middle class for developing countries in a forthcoming World Bank publication, Equity in a Globalizing World. Birdsall defines the middle class in the developing world to include people with an income above $10 day or $3,650 a year, but excluding the top 5% of that country. By this definition, India, even urban India alone, has no middle class; everyone at over $10 a day is in the top 5% of the country.
Unlike poverty which is defined by the World Bank as people living on less than $1.25 or $2 a day, there is no widely accepted definition of who counts as a member of the middle class in the developing world.
In India, for example, a scooter company aims ads at a schoolteacher who earns $2,500 a year and lives in a tiny brick house with no running water. Why? Because that teacher is counted as middle class by Indian marketers, according to MSN Money.
Economist Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development (CDG) is attempting to establish a $10 a day minimum limit in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) as the low end of the middle class, while excluding the top 5% of the population in a country from the middle class. "An upper limit of the 95th percentile, while on the high side, is just about sufficient to exclude the country's richest," Birdsall adds.
In India's case, everyone who makes $3,650 a year is in the top 5% (about 55 million people) of the nation's population. It is on this basis that economist Birdsall concludes that India has no middle class. Over 75% of India's population (versus 60% in Pakistan) lives on less than $2 a day, or $750 a year, according to Human Development Report 2009. The rest of about 20% of India's people falls between $2 and $10 a day.
It is interesting to note, however, that India has been much more successful in sustaining democracy than Pakistan. Perhaps it is attributable to early land reform in India that significantly tamed the power of the feudal class.
Using Birdsall's proposed definition, Pakistan now does have a middle class of tens of millions (at least 10% of the population), as its 30 to 35 million people earning an average of $10,000 a year (well above Birdsall's lower limit of $3,650.00 a year) account for about 17% of Pakistan's population. Another 60% of Pakistanis (vs 75% of Indians) live on less than $2 a day, according to UN Human Development Report 2009. The rest of 23% of the people have incomes between $730 a year ($2 a day) and $10,000 a year, and a significant percentage of them could be classified as lower middle class.
According to development economist Lant Pritchett, fewer than 25% of the people in the richest quintile in India complete 9 grades of school.
This is a combination both of the depth of India's poverty and its inequality. China had no middle class in 1990, but by 2005, had a small urban middle class (3% of the population). South Africa (7%), Russia (30%) and Brazil (19%) all had sizable middle classes in 2005.
Contrary to popular myths about rich-poor gap often expressed in Pakistani and Western media, Pakistan is more egalitarian than most countries of the world, including nations of South Asia region. According to UNDP HDR report 2009, Pakistan's ratio of expenditures of the top and bottom 10% of the population is 6.7 versus India's 8.6 and China's 13.2. The resource consumption by the lowest 10% of the Pakistani population is 3.9% and highest 10% consumes 26.5%. This compares favorably with 3.6% consumption by the bottom 10% in India and 31.1% by the top 10%.
In spite of the recent growth in Pakistan's middle class, it is still not strong enough to seize power. However, with the recent growth of independent mass media and greater political activism, the Pakistani middle class has begun to exert more influence on how the nation is governed. And the power of the current ruling feudal zamindars' party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, appears to be waning in the face of the new assertive middle class.
Unlike the more urban and middle class voters of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the PPP's voter lives in a different world, a world that has been dominant for decades. It is a feudal world controlled by the rural elite that is much more rural, more deferential, more rooted in tradition. Its nationalism is less marked and its Islam less influenced by the international trends of the last 30 years and thus much less politicized and much more based in centuries-old Sufi traditions. Describing this situation, Jason Burke of the Guardian has argued that "This is a Pakistan that is disappearing". Burke has quoted an unnamed 2008 PPP electoral candidate in rural Punjab who recognized and reportedly said that his party needed to "re-invent itself".
While many rural residents in Sindh and Southern Punjab who voted for the PPP have remained relatively isolated from major developments in Pakistan in the last decade, the urban middle class has grown dramatically in numbers and influence during the military rule of President Musharraf. The New York Times reported on this expansion of Pakistani middle class in November 2007 in these words: "As he fights to hold on to power, General Musharraf finds himself opposed by the expanded middle class that is among his greatest achievements, and using his emergency powers to rein in another major advance he set in motion, a vibrant, independent news media". Acknowledging this fact, William Dalrymple, a British journalist/author considered knowledgeable about India and Pakistan, recently wrote as follows: "It was this newly enriched and empowered urban middle class that showed its political muscle for the first time with the organization of a lawyers' movement, whose protests against the dismissal of the chief justice soon swelled into a full-scale pro-democracy campaign, despite Musharraf's harassment and arrest of many lawyers. The movement represented a huge shift in Pakistani civil society's participation in politics. The middle class were at last moving from their living rooms onto the streets, from dinner parties into political parties."
The future of Pakistan clearly belongs to its urban middle class. The behavior of the members of this rising urban middle class will largely determine if and when Pakistan grows out of the current crises to face the future with greater confidence.
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