Friday, January 13, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Less than One Russian in 12 is Middle Class by European Standards, Moscow Sociologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – Only six to eight percent of Russians are members of a genuine middle class, a group that has provided most of the protest energy in the country in recent months and one in which so many have placed their hopes for the political modernization of the Russian Federation,  according to researchers at the Moscow Institute of Sociology.

            Instead, 59 percent of the population, “the silent majority,” are poor, according to a book, “Russian Society as It Is” (in Russian; Moscow: Novy khronograf, 2011, 1000 copies), and worse yet the sociologists say, “Russian poverty has not fallen even in the relatively well-off years” (

            According to the “Tolkovatel” report about it which has been picked up by various Moscow outlets, the Academy of Sciences sociologists divided their mass sample into ten strata. The two lowest, the scholars said, are below the poverty level and together formed 16 percent of the population.

            The third and fourth strata, the book said, include the 43 percent of the population which are “balanced at the edge of poverty.”  The researchers continued, “Tolkovatel” stressed, that the fourth strata is the “modal” group in Russia; that is, the one that predominates and brings the total poor of Russia to 59 percent.

            The fifth through the eighth of the strata for an additional 33 percent of the population and thus are “the so-called ‘middle strata of Russian society,” but the sociologists stressed that if one applies the standards of Western countries, the only Russians are who really “middle class” are the six to eight percent in the ninth and tenth strata.

            The sociologists found that members of the Russian poor tend to be older (47 on average) than those in the middle class (42) and the average member of the wealthiest group (33). Moreover, “Tolkovatel” reported, “the greatest conception of poverty among young people is found in worker settlements” where 25 percent of the people live at or below the poverty line.

            Workers for the largest share of the poor, accounting for 63 percent of all people in that category.  Office workers form only 10 percent of the poor. In this sense, Russia is following a pattern typical of many Western countries: most of those in poverty have jobs and thus form the new “working poor.”

            The authors of the book, however, stressed that there is one huge difference between the situation in Europe and that in Russia. In Europe, surveys show, most people lay responsibility for anyone’s poverty on the individual in question; but in Russia, most blame others for such things as non-payment of wages and insufficient state support.

            According to the sociologists, “the basic cause of the appearance of poverty in Russia consists of macro-economic factors and the situation of the labor market. But they also pointed to another factor: there is a very large share of Russians – some 27 percent --who have higher and incomplete higher education but who are found among the poor.

            In addition to the size of their residences, Russians in the poorer groups are distinguished from those in the upper groups by their access to computers only six percent of the poor have a computer compared to an average for all Russians of 19 percent.  Specifically, among the poor only 19 percent use a computer, while 38 percent of the population as a whole does.

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