Reflections on class & middle-class in Romania (3)

Ștefan Lipan

So how are we to understand the middle-class in Romania? Can we even speak of a middle-class in Romania? If we look only at people’s incomes, then the answer would be no. At least not one consistent with the dream of the middle class – that large middle part of the economy, those who have enough resources to generate development and growth (Oancea 2011). A statistical study using the 2011 Living Conditions Survey found that the persons “who, in ascending order of the annual gross incomes, can be found in the middle part of the income distribution and represent a third of the total number of persons” (Ioniţă & Vasile 2015) have annual gross incomes between 6121 lei – 13360 lei (~1400 to 3100 euro/year, ~100 to 260 euro/month). In relative terms (in relationship to other categories) and according only to the gross income, this would be the Romanian middle-class. Almost 60% of which is made out of pensioners. Almost 60% of which are women. A look at the distribution of salaries in Romania in 2015 shows that the number of persons with monthly gross incomes between the national median salary of 530 euro and 1100 euro is about 580.000 (Mihai 2015). That means monthly net incomes between 380 and 780 Euros (considering the value of the current taxes in Romania). That amounts for about 3% of the total population. If you also add up the persons who earn between the minimum gross wage (the value in 2015 was 975 lei ~220 Euros) and the medium one, that makes about 15% percent of the population.

Meanwhile, one research in Romania shows that 80% of the population situates itself somewhere in the middle (CCSB 2012). Not too rich, but not too poor either. Middle-class. Aspiring to be middle-class. In a column for the cultural magazine Dilema Veche, Mihailescu (2013) reads a peasant’s moral principle in the Romanians’ widespread tendency to position themselves as middle class. This is the ideal of moderation that explains why in the Romanian rural world being very poor and very rich are equally disapproved social positions. Moreover, Mihailescu points out the ‘status inconsistency’ (i.e. a person might possess social and cultural but not economic capital and the other way around) that might limit the formation of a socially coherent middle class ( see also Stoica 2004)⁠.

The ideas presented so far express the difficulty in conceptualizing the ‘middle-class’ in Romania, a difficulty also discussed and approached in other anthropological studies of the middle-class around the globe (Donner 2017)⁠. In this context of conceptual vagueness, I propose following a phenomenon ascribed to the global middle-class (Heiman et al. 2012) – charity work, engaging in compassionate acts – in order to bring a more nuanced understanding of the middle-class practices. This is also linked with the idea that in Romania middle-class is more of an aspirational category.

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