While Western nations are placing less value on material wealth in terms of personal identity, emerging nations continue to measure success by material acquisition. This stems from a belief that material standing is intrinsically entwined with identity and status. The attitude that people have towards their lives, is however, vastly different amongst nations.
A new study, ‘The Global Consumer Power Shift’ in the middle class by Ask Afrika Target Group Index (TGi), has revealed South Africa’s middle class are discontent with their lot in life and are highly pessimistic that this will change. This is likely to be linked to the high unemployment rate (20-25% of the population). Belief that things will improve is strongest in the Western middle classes and it is growing in India. The Chinese and Indians are highly materialistic and ambitious, yet they are not unhappy with their current circumstances. The middle class in Brazil have the greatest appetite for change.
“In the richest countries the middle classes are affluent enough for money not to be a driver of who they are. Those who have the most are less materialistic, while those with the least are the most. The middle class in Egypt, China, India and South Africa are highly ambitious in comparison to Western counterparts and are willing to sacrifice family time to get ahead,” said Maria Petousis, TGi director at Ask Afrika.
Entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to own a business has dropped from 48% in 2007 to 38% in 2011 in South Africa, this is a global trend, but entrepreneurialism is still most prevalent in emerging markets. On the whole the middle class is not as ambitious as those in the highest social level, except in Brazil and USA, where ambition increases the less well-off someone is.
“With the exception of India and China, middle classes are more likely to be unhappier than the higher social class, particularly in developed counties. An increasing competition in the labour force would be the most obvious reason, the threat of redundancy, in life, not just work,” says Petousis.
The Chinese are the least worried about themselves, in line with Confucian thinking. The middle class in China is larger than the entire population of the USA. There is a tremendous work ethic and status is linked to materialism. Sacrificing family time to get ahead is strongest, 64% of women work full time compared to 33% in Europe. Yet, paradoxically, the majority of respondents agree that family is more important than money. They are the least entrepreneurial with the government setting 5 year plans for businesses. Chinese are strongly career driven agreeing that money is the best measure of success.
India with its culturally ingrained fatalism, has the most resigned, but also one of the most content middle classes. In the context of the prevailing caste system, social mobility isn’t easy or anticipated, this is however changing. Indians agree that money is the best measure of success. Whilst the majority put their career before time with their family, there are signs of a rising awareness for work life balance, with a quarter of the middle class agreeing that family is more important than the money I make (this is comparatively high).
In comparison to their counterparts in emerging markets, the middle classes in the West are more anxious, but they are the happiest and most optimistic, due to their relative affluence. In the West, there is a downward trend in those who are, willing to sacrifice time with family to get ahead or believe money is the best measure of success and there is a tendency to plan for the long term. Middle class citizens in Great Britain (GB), Germany and USA strongly believe that how time is spent is more important than money. In comparison to other classes, the middle class in Germany and GB are the least happy with their current life circumstance and in both the USA and Europe, they are the most ambitious class.
TGi research, for which Ask Afrika own the South African copyright, is a single source sample of 15 000, it has a global geographic coverage of 67 markets and measures services and products, media and brands.