Business, Economics and Jobs

Middle class booms in India, China

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This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Right now, there are about 290 million people in China's middle class. They don't make as much as the American middle class, Vishakha Desai, president of Asia Society, told PRI's The Takeaway, but they lead a pretty good lifestyle. Fifteen years from now, Desai says that the number of middle class people will grow to 500 million people in China alone. That's bigger than the entire population of the United States.

The middle class income for Chinese people will grow about 10-fold, too, according to Desai. And a similar trend is happening in India. Desai says that there are an astounding number of people "who have aspirations to buy, who right now the capacity to buy modestly, but within 10 years, they're going to grow into another income level at a rate that we have never seen in the world ever before."

The trend has already started. "We can see it on the streets," according to Aadil Ebrahim, who recently moved from Hong Kong to Mumbai, where he works for an investment asset management firm. India has been adding about 10 million cell phone subscribers each month. They buy about 1 million cars and 1.5 million motorbikes each month.

The development is not occurring in the same way, either. "In Hong Kong," Ebrahim says, "there was a very clear distinction between sort of lower class, middle class and upper class. And I guess everyone knew where they stood." In Mumbai, Ebrahim says "it's just completely all mixed up."

Some believe the rising incomes will lead to political stability, but Desai doubts that logic. The assumption that "as people begin to have more things, that they want to have more freedom," doesn't hold true, according to Desai. People are self censoring throughout China, which points to a continuing stability under the current government. Or maybe they're too busy buying cell phones and cars.

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org