The Grey Chronicles


Filipino Middle Class: A State of Mind or The Silent Majority?

Although there is an existing debate who constitutes the Filipino middle class, Diones (2009) wrote “The industrialization process of the 20th century marked the emergence of the middle class in the Philippines.” Virola (2007) states that there is a “collapsing middle class of the Philippine society,” who can spell the difference between us being mired in poverty or crossing over to the league of First-World countries by 2020. In the United States, he cites, ideological and economic theories consider:

“The middle class as consisting of all those who are neither «poor» nor «rich», or as being a relative elite of professionals and managers, defined by lifestyle and influence.”

Tracing the emergence of the Filipino middle class in relation to the Philippine industrialization which began in 1930s but from the 1960s progressed slowly along with the expansion of the tertiary industries accompanied by the burgeoning of the informal sector, rather than with the manufacturing industries, Kimura (2003) defines the middle classes in terms of occupation and prestige in the Philippine social context and divides them into three types:

“the «new middle class» which consists of professional and technical workers on the one hand, and wage- and salary-earning administrators, executives, and managers on the other hand; the «marginal middle class» which refers to wage- and salary-earning clerical workers; and the «old middle class» composed of nonprofessional, nontechnical self-employed workers other than those in the informal sector and the primary industries, as well as employers outside the primary industries except for those holding administrative, executive, and managerial positions.”

Katzenstein and Shiraishi (2006) observes:

“If Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesia middle classes came into being in a generation in the 1980s and 1900s, Filipino middle classes have been around for at least two generations. This is due to the simple fact that Philippines industrialization started earlier, in the 1950s, though it remained stunted ever since. This is evident in census data. … To understand the Philippine middle classes, it is important to remember that educational development started earlier and proceeded steadily there more than in any other Southeast Asian country. … This educational development, combined with the stunted economic development in the Philippines explains why the Philippines has emerged as an exporter of professionals as well . …”

Philippine Business (2008) proposed that the Overseas Filipino Workers [OFWs] are the new Filipino middle class:

“The remittances sent back home by these OFWs totaled to $14.45 billion for 2007 and remains to be the largest source of foreign currency of the country. True, the Filipino OFWs are unique—highly educated, easily trainable, very skilled, and English speaking and because of this, would remain to be in demand overseas. But with the current financial crisis, unemployment rate in those highly developed countries adversely affected would definitely go up, as companies would downsize operations to a minimum.”

All these researchers and writers agree that the Filipino middle class have existed prior to other southeast Asian middle classes. Many literature, moreover, tried to understand the reasons why the Filipino middle class remained where they are.

Annual Family Income of Filipino Middle ClassEarlier, during the 10th National Convention on Statistics, Virola, Addawe & Querubin’s paper (2007) attempted to define the Filipino middle class in terms of income and in terms of socio-economic characteristics, specifically: “The middle income class may be defined as those families who, in 2007, have total annual income ranging from P251,283 to P2,045,280.” Using these characteristics, they found that number of middle income families actually increased from 1997 to 2000, but decreased from 2000 to 2003.

Premised on the assumption that “in the social spectrum, the middle class, with their knowledge, skills and work ethics, is of course generally believed to be the driver of development,” Virola (2009) finds, in a follow-up article, that this range has been raised throughout the years to match the country’s worsening economic conditions:

“In terms of socio-economic characteristics, there were twelve significant predictors of the middle income families in 2006: a) head has a college degree; b) head works as official of government, corporate executive, managers and supervisor; c) own oven; d) own air conditioning unit; e) own car/vehicle; f) roof of house is made of strong materials; g) family size; h) presence of non-relative member; i) presence of employed household member; j) floor area of the housing unit; k) source of water is own use, faucet or community water system; and l) location of house in urban area.”

During the succession of People Power revolutions, Filipinos have shown their willingness to fight every inch to achieve freedom. Kimura observes that “in politics, the middle classes are not organized on the basis of either class consciousness or occupation. Neither do they, as a whole, adopt a specific political stance. … But, because of their large mobilization capability and geographical concentration in Metro Manila, the nation’s capital, they can play an important role in time of crisis as they have proved it.”

Yet, the Filipinos have a short span of memory, we never learned from our past mistakes. Corruption is unabated. The Philippines remains among the most corrupt countries in the world. In the 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index [CPI] (2005), the Philippines garnered a score of 2.5. Among selected ASEAN countries surveyed, the country ranked as one of the three countries with the lowest CPI. Three years thereafter, the CPI is still 2.3 (TI, 2008). Politics is the same: ironically, principled street leaders are rubbing elbows with the same traditional politicians, trapos as the former called them, who were once the subjects and causes of the past people power uprisings.

I have been a recipient of many emails, supposedly coming from middle-class Filipinos, and the tone of these emails range from hopelessness to positiveness. One writer lamented about the government’s biased focus on the poor, who unfortunately are not at all paying taxes not unlike those infamous political ideologues, while neglecting the majority of workers—mostly middle class—automatically being deducted of their withholding taxes! Another one emphasized that it’s no wonder why many tax-paying middle class Filipinos are in the brink of surrender and desire to leave the country in exodus leaving behind the lower class or the marginalized sector of the citizenry; the upper class will flee the country as well ahead of anybody. Incidentally, others still believe that there is hope for the Philippines.

In his The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman (2005) wrote:

“The existence of large, stable middle classes around the world is crucial to geopolitical stability, but middle class is a state of mind, not a state of income. That’s why a majority of Americans always describe themselves as «middle class,» even though by income statistics some of them wouldn’t be considered as such. «Middle class» is another way of describing people who believe that they have a pathway out of poverty or lower-income status toward a higher standard of living and a better future for their kids. You can be in the middle class in your head whether you make $2 a day or $200, if you believe in social mobility-that your kids have a chance to live better than you do-and that hard work and playing by the rules of your society will get you where you want to go.”

Thus, maybe in the Philippines, middle class is a state of mind, or the silent majority?


Diones, Chernobyl (2009). Today’s Filipino middle class, Idea Corkboard. XXII:163. Manila: Business World, 20 March 2009. back to text

Friedman, Thomas L. (2005). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2005. pp. 376-7 back to text

Katzenstein, Peter J. & Takashi Shiraishi [eds] (2006). Beyond Japan: The Dynamics of East Asian Regionalism. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 2006. p. 264—5. back to text

Kimura, Masataka (2003). The Emergence of the Middle Classes and Political Change in the Philippines, The Developing Economies. XLI:2. Tokyo: Institute of Developing Economies [IDE] JETRO, June 2003. pp. 264—84. back to text

Philippine Business (2008). The New Filipino Middle Class. Online: Philippine Business, 08 November 2008. back to text

Transparency International [TI] (2005). Global Corruption Report 2005. Berlin: Transparency International, 2005. back to text

Transparency International [TI] (2008). Global Corruption Report 2008. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. back to text

Virola, Rumulo A. (2007). Anti-Poverty? How about Pro-Middle Class?, Statistically Speaking. Makati: National Statistical Coordination Board [NSCB], 10 December 2007. back to text

Virola, Rumulo A. (2009). Pinoy Middle Class Before the Crisis!, Statistically Speaking. Makati: National Statistical Coordination Board [NSCB], 08 June 2009. back to text

Virola, Rumulo A.; Addawe, Mildred B.; & Querubin, Ma. Ivy T. (2007). Trends and Characteristics of the Middle-Income Class in the Philippines: Is it Expanding or Shrinking?, Presented during 10th National Convention on Statistics [NCS] in Makati City on 01-02 October 2007. back to text

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts on this site do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions; and unless otherwise expressly stated, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


  1. Very insightful. Thank you.

    Comment by Jerro Santos — 2014.October.13 @ 16:09 | Reply

  2. […] gamer, and calligrapher all rolled up into one morbidly obese package living the ‘marginal middle-class‘ life in a third-world country. I would rather be a jack-of-all-trades than a master of one. […]

    Pingback by Further introductory babble | Notes on navel-gazing — 2012.September.11 @ 04:24 | Reply

  3. also happy to read-read blog
    always successful

    Comment by ivenxadytia — 2009.July.18 @ 16:54 | Reply

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