February 12, 2009

The Global Middle Class

Chapter 3. Environmental Issues

Various studies have shown that as individuals are lifted out of poverty, concern about issues outside of day-to-day survival – such as environmental protection – increase. The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey found that, in several countries, the middle class reported greater concern about global warming and was more likely to identify pollution as a top national problem.

Pollution a Big Problem

Anxiety about pollution was widespread among many of the publics included in this analysis, and was especially common among the middle class. In six of the 13 countries, the middle class was more likely to describe pollution in their country as a very big problem.

Middle class Bulgarians, Malaysians and South Africans were most likely to differ from the less wealthy in their countries. Seven-in-ten middle-income Bulgarians (70%) said that pollution was a very big problem in their country, compared with 58% of those earning less income. About 45% of middle income Malaysians and South Africans expressed concern for pollution in their country, while just over one-third of their lower-income counterparts professed the same opinion (34% Malaysia; 35% South Africa).

A less substantial gap was found between middle- and low-income Egyptians (seven percentage points). While large proportions of Indians and Venezuelans across all income groups described pollution as a very big problem, slight gaps were found between members of the middle- and lower- income groups.

Global Warming a Serious Problem

The Pew Global Attitudes analysis found a widespread consensus over the dangers of global warming, but concern about climate change is especially acute among the middle class. In six of the 12 countries in this analysis where the question was asked, more middle- than lower-income respondents said global warming was a very serious problem.

While in general few differences were found between the views of middle- and lower-income Ukrainians, opinions varied greatly on the issue of global warming. Nearly seven-in-ten middle class Ukrainians (69%) described global warming as a very serious problem, compared with just over half (54%) of the less well-off. Similarly, middle-income Indians were substantially more likely to view rising global temperatures as a big problem (13 percentage points).

Most Latin American publics voiced considerable worry over climate change, but middle- class respondents expressed even greater concern than those with lower incomes in Argentina (an eight percentage point gap), Mexico (six points) and Chile (five points).

In Malaysia and Poland, the pattern was reversed: the less well-off in these countries were more likely to profess worry over this environmental issue than were better-off respondents.