Ecuador's diverse middle class was concentrated in cities and larger towns. A minute, ill-defined group during most of the country's history, its numbers grew in the twentieth century. In the late 1970s, estimates based on income indicated that roughly 20 percent of the population was middle class. Economic expansion increased the opportunities available to the able and ambitious. The rapid increase in government employment contributed both to the size of the middle class in absolute numbers and to the group's political awareness. The rise of a middle class whose interests were not those of the rural oligarchy transformed national politics.
Businessmen, professionals, clerical employees, mid-level bureaucrats and managers, army officers, and teachers comprised the middle levels of society. They constituted a diverse group, often poorly defined in terms of both self-identity and criteria for membership. At a minimum, an individual had attained a certain level of education (at least a secondary school degree), practiced an occupation that did not require manual labor, and manifested proper manners and dress to be considered middle class.
The upper echelons frequently identified with and emulated the elite. By contrast, the lower levels of the middle class often made common cause with the more prosperous segments of the working class. The cleavage between these two groups--a prosperous, uppermiddle class oriented toward the elite and a less economically secure lower group often allied with the more privileged sectors of the working class--was reflected in lifestyle, patterns of association, and political loyalties.
In addition to the economic division, an ethnic component emerged in the ranking of the various levels of the middle class. In general, individuals became more "white" and less obviously mestizo farther up the social ladder. In addition, the middle class was ethnically more diverse than other groups. Over the years, immigrants from southern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Latin America arrived to take advantage of expanding economic opportunities on the Costa. These immigrants formed the core of Ecuador's commercial interests.
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