Fine stratification society and middle class anxiety

  ”Middle class anxiety” is a common phenomenon. The middle class all over the world are more or less anxious because their income and wealth are not enough to bring about a full sense of security. The insecurity of the middle class has two levels. The first is the sense of crisis of occupation and status. The middle class is dominated by managers and professional and technical personnel. Although their income is relatively high, they do not possess the means of production. They have limited voice in the organization. Once the business faces difficulties or encounters an economic crisis On the contrary, middle managers are more likely to be unemployed than frontline employees-after all, layoffs of a “dispensable” middle manager can hire multiple frontline employees or college graduates. The second is the sense of crisis in the socio-economic status of the family, and they worry that their children will not be able to move up further or at least inherit their socio-economic status. The status market will “reshuffle” every once in a while, and the middle class’s “good hand” is more likely to be washed out. The social and economic status of the upper-class elites is high enough. Even if they make a 30% or 20% discount in the downward transfer process, the next generation’s status is still stable; the lower-class people usually hope to “shuffle the cards” and change their hands. Only the middle class is suffering from gains and losses, advancing and retreating. On the one hand, this mountain is looking at the high mountain, and on the other hand, it is worried that the duck in hand will fly away.
  In China, the severity of middle-class anxiety seems to be much higher than the international average. One of the most direct indicators is “chicken baby”. The economists Depke and Zilibotti pointed out in the book “Love, Money, and Children”: In countries with economic inequality and high returns to education, parents may be more arbitrary, more “chicken-blooded,” and prefer to instill in their children The idea of ​​getting ahead. This is true in China. Since the 1990s, China’s inequality has increased rapidly. In 1981 and 1993, the Gini coefficient of income was 0.288 and 0.359, respectively. The Gini coefficient soared to 0.436 in 1994 and 0.49 in 2009. At the same time, due to the implementation of the one-child policy, the “fewer births” greatly increased the family’s human capital investment in their children, and also raised parents’ expectations for their children. Parents often have the mentality of “cannot lose”.
  The formation of a finely stratified society
  From 1949 to 1994, Chinese society was a flat society. During this period, China’s social stratification was relatively rough, with few social classes and small gaps between classes. From 1949 to 1978, the main criterion for social stratification was the political criterion, that is, the political component. After the socialist transformation, capitalists and landlords disappeared from mainland China. The main characteristics of a flat society are:

  1. The income gap is small and family assets are small. During this period, the income of ordinary Chinese residents was generally low and they lacked fixed assets with private property rights. Before the reform and opening up, most urban residents rented houses from units or housing management departments. The housing area was small and the living conditions were poor. The per capita housing area in 190 cities across the country was only 3.6 square meters, and the number of households lacking houses reached 8.69 million, accounting for the total number of households in the city. Of 47.5%.
  2. Mixed strata. The city is dominated by the unit community. The cadres and employees of different levels in the unit live in the same community. The difference between cadres and employees is not very big. They are colleagues at get off work and neighbors after work. The social stratification in this period was not based on wealth, but on identity and rank within and outside the system.
  3. Low-to-medium consumption is dominated, and the Engel coefficient is high. Before the 1990s, food consumption occupies an important position in the expenditure of Chinese people, and the consumption level is generally not high.
  From 1978 to 1994, new stratums such as entrepreneurs and migrant workers gradually appeared. The main social stratums were: senior cadres-cadres/entrepreneurs/intellectuals-workers-farmers/migrant workers. In this stage, the overall social differentiation is not very serious. It is a stage of transition from a flat society to a finely stratified society.
  Since 1994, Chinese society has become a finely stratified society. The main social classes include: senior cadres/top entrepreneurs-middle-level cadres/entrepreneurs/senior intellectuals-civil servants/intellectuals/white-collar workers-urban villages/suburban farmers-skilled workers-blue-collar workers-migrant workers/farmers. The main characteristics of a finely stratified society are:
  1. The gap between income and property has widened. Since the end of the 1990s, while the income and wealth of the Chinese have increased substantially, the income gap and property gap have also been rising. In 2009, China’s income Gini coefficient reached 0.49, after which it declined, but it also remained at a high level of around 0.46. In 2010, the property Gini coefficient was as high as 0.739, and has remained at this level since then. In other words, the gap in property is more than the gap in income, and the importance of property income gradually surpasses wage income. The research of Wan Haiyuan and Li Shi shows that in the first decade of this century, the proportion of property ownership of all residents below 90% has been declining, while the share of only the highest 10% has risen rapidly. The property share of the company increased from 39% in 2002 to 64% in 2010. Housing prices are the main reason for property growth. After deducting housing price factors, the total property value of residents will drop by 40%. In first- and second-tier cities, rising housing prices contributed 38% of the Gini coefficient. After excluding the factor of rising house prices, the Gini coefficient of the distribution of residents’ net property dropped from 0.739 to 0.663.
  2. Residential segregation of classes. According to the housing class theory of Rex and Moore, people at the upper level of the social structure will have their housing in the upper level of the housing condition structure, and vice versa. Saunders further pointed out that in modern society, a person’s housing situation reflects his class status even more than his occupation, because housing as an asset allows the owner to accumulate wealth faster and obtain more Life opportunities. The 1998 housing system reform greatly improved the living conditions of Chinese urban residents. The supply-demand relationship of commercial housing is dominated by market logic. Unlike the traditional welfare housing allocation, housing prices have become a screening mechanism for strata settlement. Residents in the same community tend to converge in terms of socioeconomic status. People with very different strata status are unlikely to live in the same Community.
  3. Consumer society is separated from consumption. Since the 21st century, people’s living standards have been greatly improved. In the past, consumption was mainly to meet personal practical needs, while current consumption has become more and more symbolic. People use specific consumption methods and behaviors to improve themselves. Separate from other groups. During this period, the automobile industry was booming, and cars changed from high-end products with luxury colors to mass consumer products. The Chinese have also become high-profile consumers in the global luxury market.
  Although there is a certain objective basis for a finely stratified society, it is also a typical middle class “picture”, that is, the middle class will construct society into the shape of “toast”, and society will be affected by economic income, cultural taste, and consumer behavior. Cut into thin slices. But the construction of society by other classes is not so. For example, within the middle class, Mercedes-Benz owners will think that they have important differences from Audi owners; but in the eyes of the elite and the bottom, the owners of these two brands belong to the same class, and the elites are “middle-class”. It seems to be a “rich man”.