Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Skeptic

I have a lot of opinions.

(Really?)

And I’ll spout them off to anyone who will listen.

Once I start monologue-ing, though, most people glaze over and occasionally nod their head in agreement.  A few are actually interested and ask me questions.  Some even get excited and we build off each other’s energy, condemning the current global system and complaining about what’s wrong with the world.

Not enough people, however, challenge me and contest my assertions.

But it happened last week!  A friend and I were discussing socioeconomics and I mentioned “the hollowing out of the middle class.”

He’d never heard of the concept before.

I explained that income distribution used to be egg-shaped: a few people earned a lot at the top, a few people earned a little at the bottom, but the majority of the population was in the middle.  Since the 1970s, however, the world has seen a shift from an egg to an hourglass.  Now more people earn either high wages or low wages, but less in the middle.

“I don’t believe that’s true,” he said.

“What?” 

I’ve been hearing about the hollowing out of the middle class since Political Science 100 in my first year of university!  All my geography professors took it for granted that we understood the concept.  I even used my hands to illustrate the egg shape and the hourglass shape!  And he didn’t believe me?

I recovered from my initial shock and explained that the phenomenon had primarily been observed in the United States – not the world as I’d originally said.  Furthermore, it was largely caused by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.  Now the “choice” is between a high-paying professional job or a low-paying service job.

My friend remained skeptical.  He said that maybe the trend has been observed, but that he didn’t believe we are at an hourglass yet.

I don’t have the internet at home, so our discussion moved on to another topic.  I could have showed him my old school notes (yes, I moved my notes all the way to South Africa.  That’s how nerdy I am), but those didn’t seem like an adequate source.

Today I used Google Scholar to find academic articles both for and against the hollowing out theory.  (Seriously, how did we survive without the internet?)  There’s strong evidence supporting the hypothesis in the United States and United Kingdom, but less documented confirmation in other countries.

And now I understand a theory much better that I had previously accepted without question!

Thank you.

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