The Distribution of Household Income and the Middle Class in Zambia

"The middle class is increasingly becoming a topical issue in Zambia. However, the lack of a definitive measure of the middle class in the country makes it difficult to have targeted policies on this group of people, perceived worldwide to be the drivers of economic growth. With high and rising income inequality in Zambia, we propose two operational definitions of the middle class by exploring the middle class from a median perspective and from a ‘relative affluence’ perspective. Defining the middle class on the basis of the ‘actual middle’ versus ‘relative affluence’ provides vastly different pictures. The results show that individuals and households that fall in the ‘relative affluence’ group have achieved a modest standard of living and are actually near the top of the country’s income ladder while households in the actual middle of the income distribution in Zambia have a standard of living well below what can be perceived as a ‘middle-class lifestyle’ elsewhere. This requires targeted policy designs when referring to changes in the economic status of the Zambian middle class. We propose a household income distribution framework which combines both the actual middle households and the relatively affluent middle households to create an enabling environment for inclusive growth policies, rather than just pro-poor policies."