Friday, April 26, 2013

Class Structure in the US and India

This is something that I think a lot about right now. In my lifetime I've lived in the poor, working class and middle classes in the US. Each has its own culture. In India I'm not sure where we fell. Our neighborhood was mixed classes. If I got by money and assets alone we were definitely middle class. If I go by attitude, we fit in more with the poor. Why do I say that?

Because poor people are worlds above the middle class and upper classes when it comes to personality, humbleness and love for people. My Indian family was one of the most respected in the neighborhood. I would venture to say my FIL was one of the most respected landlords in the neighborhood of our rental home. Several families from there traveled to our main home to get advice and support from FIL and MIL. I think that says volumes more than money status.

In the poor circles I've traveled in the US people are much more diversity friendly. It doesn't matter your skin color, you're judged on how you treat people. So in every single poor circle I've been in there have been multiple races. When I was in the middle class there was a much more serious divide it seemed. Each race seemed to only integrate with their own kind. Well, with the exception of the Filipino's, they seemed to integrate well with just about anyone.

In the upper class neighborhoods I've worked in, I've not seen anyone integrating yet. I guess this makes the popular saying "It's lonely at the top" even more realistic. I see people go out and walk their dogs but it's not nearly as common to see them wave at each other or say hello in passing. This is not the case in middle class neighborhoods where someone almost always stops you to talk. In poor neighborhoods you better not walk by without stopping to knock on the door. People just seem to get friendlier on the way down.

There also seems to be a lot more respect for people and their differences on the lower levels as well. Diversity is cherished more. People openly discuss ethnicity in the sense that "he's my Indian friend" and such. It's like they are more excited because the person is not a native white person.

Being part of the middle class in the US seems to mean you have the right house, the right cars, the right amount of kids who you keep busy with all kinds of activities other than playing at home. You need to stay borderline in debt or live right at your income level to keep up. No wonder people aren't as friendly, all that stress can't be good for them. I've done my time in the middle class racket.

I think from now on I'm going to keep my hard earned money and live like a poor person. It's a much better way to live. I really enjoy the diversity and the lack of stress that comes with it.

In India being middle class seems to be defined similarly. You're judged by the size of your home, the assets you have, etc. It doesn't matter if you need them or not, you just have to have them to get in. I've seen quite a few people strive for those things only to be living in them like paupers. So are they really middle class? We will never know because it's part of the Indian system to compete for who is better on the outside, even if on the inside none of it is true.

The main difference I see between the class structure in the US and India is that in India it seems like there's more pressure to work your way up to middle class. In the US you can live happily in any class. No one's pushing you to constantly work harder, longer or do more to get there. We don't promote suffrage in the name of getting ahead the way I see it happening in India.

What are your thoughts on the class system in the US or India (or whichever Desi country you're attached to)?


  1. Interesting they have a middle class in India. My husbands family is from Pakistan.My mother in law and sister in law tell me stories about Pakistan and how there is no such thing as middle class there. There is only the poor and the wealthy upper class, no middle class. I assumed India would be the same way but I just learned from your post that it's not!

  2. Socioeconomic class is very different in India than it is in North America (from my experience). I'd say I come from a middle class family by North American standards based on assets and income. But the funny thing is, while there are far more people in the US/ Canada who make more money than my parents, they are also in a lot of debt. So if/when a recession hits, those people are screwed. So I think debt needs to be taken into consideration when analyzing money.

    I think it's very difficult for middle class people in North America (more so in the US than Canada) to understand the concept of 'living within one's means' because they're raised to believe that they can spend as much money as they want on their credit cards and buy things like cars/appliances/houses on loans. They even buy things like engagement rings on bank loans! Dude, you're proposing to your fiance with a ring that's technically owned by the bank!

    My husband comes from an upper socioeconomic class background in India. It was really strange for me when I first got here because of the massive gap (not just between the poor and the rich, but even within the middle class and the upper class). Day to day life for a middle class family in India is way more difficult than day to day life for a middle class family in North America.

  3. There is a middle class in Pakistan as well but it is not the same as "middle class" in the USA. The gap between the very rich and everyone else is much wider than in the US but a street sweeper and a government worker live very different kinds of lives.

  4. Oh yes, it's something that's only recently being recognized publicly.

  5. Absoluely! I agree with everything you said. Here in the US people are spread too thin when it comes to money and are constantly struggling to keep up with the debt. I blame this vicious cycle for all the inflation we suffer. :P

    Middle class life in India, or any life really, is much more difficult than a comparable life in the US. One of the things I liked about the way the Indian government handles some of the issues is the way they regulate the price of basic foods so the poor can survive and then they subsidize the farmers to keep those prices down. I wish they would do something like that here so poor families can have access to healthier foods instead of having to eat cheap junk food. A lot of people here can't afford to eat healthy and it only contributes to the health issues we face.

  6. I can't comment about middle class in US, but the typical Swiss is one that will never use the credit card if they can avoid it, in the Swiss culture buying a fridge on EMI is also pretty much unheard of because culturally we are taught that living above your means is bad, it only serves to brag, and bragging and trying to nab the spotlight is pretty much frowned upon in Switzerland, and if you ended up in the spotlight (Roger Federer type) you won't find these people to act on it, they stay humble.
    I kid you not until moving to India I didn't even know credit cards bill could be left unpaid and you would be charged interests because my experience with credit card meant if you don't pay your bill on time the credit card gets blocked until you pay what you owe. I had no idea you could even buy a TV on EMI. And it's not like TVs are cheap in Switzerland it's just that if you need to save portion of your salary for 6 months to own one you do it instead of byuing one on EMI imemdiately, and that certainly do not mean that just because everybody has a LCD TV you should go break the bank on one if you can't afford it. In Switzerland students moreoften than not buy their stove, fridge and electronic at a charity run store like the Salvation army or similar type, we also tend to buy our car second hand too, most of the people I came acrss in India find the idea revolting, because it's a maid's job to get the cast offs, middle class must have brand new items, and they must break the bank to get them, even if that means eating like a pauper, TV and fancy computer seem to come before good food or other things that in Switzerland we would consider primary needs.

  7. The things that you mentioned above were very true of the Indian middle class thirty years ago. We were definitely more thrifty with our money. The Bajaj scooter was a prized possession and envy of many. There was long waiting list for scooters and telephones. Most of it was what I called "Socialist Poverty". There was absolutely nothing in the market. All good things came from outside.

    Then something happened in 1990s with the liberalization. People got high paying jobs, there was a deluge of consumer goods. Indians went after them with vengeance. We are a country trying to make up for lost time since 1947. As far as second hand cars are concerned, going by the state of Indian roads, second hand cars may have outlived their utility. Secondly, you never know, somebody may dupe you. Credit cards, cars etc. are very new to India so there is lot more attraction for these, I only hope that we do not go the American way and overspend on credit cards.

  8. Switzerland was when I was growing up a land were there wern't many brands from outside either.
    And I think you would laugh at that but even today the typical first car of a Swiss 20 something that finally can afford one is more often than not a bolt bucket that is a solid 10 years old because that is all they can afford as a freshly out of the nest idependant adult, it's the type of car that has bumps, scratches, a little rust and will leak oil often, it's pretty much a rite of passage back home, so seriously seeing people being suspicious of a 5 year old car in India has me really laugh, because even with the pathetic state of roads and what it does to the suspention the second hand cars I have seen on the market are in far better condition than what you find in Switzerland where said cars might not be at the mercy of craptastic roads but still are pretty beat due to extreme weather conditions after 10 years, not to mention that the Swiss are a breedo of outdoorsy people who will drive great distances to go on holidays on all kind of roads and in all conditions. What I saw as a big repellent to get a second hand car in India is that first they are not that much cheaper than new ones and the used car loan is at a higest interest rate than the new car car loan, which is pretty much a way to push people to buy new to begin with.

  9. When you have a general good quality life, there is less incentive to save and more to spend, coupled with the consumer culture in America leads to more spending. Interestingly, I have read somewhere that Americans do not help their children with education and marriage expenses, as these are borned by the individual himself/herself. In India weddings area big drain on resources. Thugs, perhaps in America there is less need to save and create wealth for children. Both parents and children are actually saving separately rather than pooling their resources. Nothing good or bad rather a different approach to financial matters.

  10. Some parents do pay for their chlidren's college. However, our political/social systems are designed so that the child must complete certain things alone including the financial admission paperwork to college. If the parent and child still reside together and under some other circumstances they have to both fill out parts of the paperwork. Subsequently, they both have to pay for the education.

  11. its funny the way u describe Indian class structure ,u need to learn more old books.iam amazed in these days anyone can come out have no historical background knowledge of india ,beside roads r dirty and its polluted .

  12. The problem with old books is that they do not represent modern India. I know more about India's history than you think. What is going on now as opposed to history are two different things and the trash in the streets transcends class boundaries with the middle class only beginning to clean things up. But that is not the purpose of this post at all.