China’s middle class has overtaken the US’s to become the world’s largest

We’re number one.
We’re number one.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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China has crossed another economic threshold. The country’s middle class reached 109 million this year, and overtook the US’s for the first time ever, according to a Credit Suisse report released Oct. 13.

Since 2000, China added 43.4 million middle class adults, while the US added just 22 million, the report said (pdf, pg. 35). But since 2008, China’s middle class grew by only 8% while the US’s grew 16%.

Globally, 664 million adults, or 14% of the adult population, belong to the middle class in 2015, Credit Suisse said. That’s up from 524 million in 2000. Middle class wealth grew at a slower pace than wealth at the top end of the economic spectrum this year, the bank said, and grew faster in Asia than in Europe or North America.

“The middle class will continue to expand in emerging economies overall, with a lion’s share of that growth to occur in Asia,” Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam said in a statement with the report. “As a result, we will see changing consumption patterns as well as societal changes as, historically, the middle class has acted as an agent of stability and prosperity,” he added.

Middle class in the report is defined “in terms of a wealth band rather than an income range” and is benchmarked against the US, because the US traditionally had the largest middle class in the world. The lower level of the band is defined as having wealth “double the annual medium income,” or $50,000 in the US at mid-2015 prices. The upper level is defined ten times that amount, or “the amount of capital a person close to retirement age needs to purchase an annuity paying the median wage for the remainder of their life.”