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As Revenues Grow, the Middle Class Thinks More about the Country

The ‘lower’ middle class is focused on family. The ‘upper’ one focusing on a social changes. As the level of a social self-determination grows, the middle class changing its motivation toward engaging in a social activity. A study by Alla Kupreychenko

Alla Kupreychenko, Leading Research Fellow at the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector (CSCSNS), presented her paper on ‘The Problems of Determination of Social Activity among Russians’ at the 14th April Academic Conference.

The author starts from the fact that psychological factors of social activity can modify and refract the influence of socio-economic factors in some way. The result of this refraction is the ‘subjective economic status’ of an individual and his social self-determination. This paper studied the influence of this psychological phenomenon on social activity among the middle class.

Data from the HSE Monitoring of the Civil Society Status (2012), as well as an empirical survey involving 397 respondents from Moscow and Moscow region aged from 17 to 69, was used for the analysis. They were asked questions about their evaluation of their economic status, social activity, satisfaction with various spheres of life, and so on.

Drivers of social activity

A person becomes involved in social activity out of his own good will, which means that psychological factors inevitably mediate the influence of all other factors, Professor Kupreychenko explains. She outlines three external and one internal ‘stimulator’ for social activity.

The external factors include:

  1. Economic factors, such as GDP per capita, the population’s stratification by income; dynamics of economic development etc.;
  2. Social and legal factors: the level of development of social institutions, legal regulation of social activity, belonging to a certain socio-demographic group;
  3. Ethnic, cultural and religious factors: the mentality of various communities, traditions of forms of social activity.

The internal ‘stimulator’ is psychological. This meanstrust and attitudes to other people, comprehension of one’s position in society and public standing, as well as moral values, optimism and knowledge about different forms of social activity.

It is clear that both external and internal factors also can limit social activity. For example, the underdevelopment of social institutions, loss of traditions, and economic crises can all be an obstacle to it.

The psychological roots of social ‘apathy’ are misanthropy, egoism, weak social trust, and fear of disapproval from others.

A portrait of the socially active middle class

In Russia it is difficult to be a socially active person, A. Kupreychenko referred to the conclusions of a study by I. Mersiyanova and L. Yakobson (see Mersiyanova I.V., Yakobson L.I. Social activity of population and citizens’ perception of conditions for civil society development. Moscow, HSE Publishing House, 2007). But the middle class, despite these difficulties, ‘has a positive attitude towards social activity’, the speaker emphasized.

36% of respondents associate themselves with the lower middle class, 56% – with middle middle class, and 4% as upper middle class. This data is from a mass survey of population on social activity carried out recently by the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector. The ‘higher’ group includes more men, young people aged from 18 to 30, and less people over 46. The middle-middle class differs from other groups mainly by level of education: it includes more people with higher education. The higher the status, the more often respondents use the internet (in the lower group 25% do it every day, in the middle – 40%, and in the higher – 53%).

Citizens’ rights and freedoms are less important for the lower middle class, including labourrights for labour, education, and a well-paid job according to the received profession, but more important for them is social welfare in old age and free healthcare.

The higher middle class is obviously more satisfied with life. They believe that rights and freedoms in today’s Russia are observed better than 2 or 3 years ago (8%, 15%, 21%). They mention improvements in science, culture, health care and social welfare. This higher layer of the middle class are oftenprouderof their country and expect improvement of life in it, and more rarely believe that sharp social conflicts are inevitable in Russia.

Generally, as the subjective economic status in the middle class improves, there is a corresponding growth among those who:

  • Associate themselves with people able to unite with the others in order to reach mutual goals (56%, 68%, 75% accordingly);
  • Have organized a team to solve their own or someone else’s problem over the last year (4%, 6%, 10%);
  • Believe that in modern Russia, civil rights for creating independent societies and associations defending their interests are realized satisfactorily (28%, 34%, 39%);
  • Satisfactorily evaluate the role of public and non-commercial organizations in the solution of Russia’s social problems (34%, 46%, 49%);
  • Believe that public and non-commercial organizations must help the government in their initiatives (12%, 15%, 28%) (see Table 1).

In addition to this, representatives of the upper middle class are more aware of public initiatives in their cities, A. Kupreychenko adds.

The ‘golden middle’ of the middle class is more inclined to local activity. They provided more responses to the statement ‘Over the last year I participated in community work days (subbotnik), and assisted in the mprovement of my entrance hall, yard, town (village)’ (24%, 29%, 25%).

Table 1. Responses to questions about public activity among middle class subgroups (% of the sample).

Selective answer

Middle class subgroups




Speaking about people around me, today there is more consent and unity among them




I class myself as one of the people ready to unite with other people to act together if their ideas and interests are the same




Today among the people around me I often see readiness to help each other




Over the last year I have participated in community work days (subbotnik), and assisted in the improvement of the entrance hall, yard, town (rural area, village)




Over the last year I’ve organized a team to solve my own or someone else’s problem




In modern Russia, civil rights for creating independent societies, unions, and associations representing and defending citizens’ rights and interests are realized satisfactorily




I don’t know and haven’t heard about any public, non-commercial organizations and initiatives in our town (rural area, village)




I trust all public and non-commercial organizations and initiatives




Public and non-commercial organizations and initiatives must help the government in their plans and undertakings




The government must create favourable conditions for the work of all public and non-commercial organizations and initiatives without exception




Today the government is taking the right position in relation to public and non-commercial organizations and initiatives




The role of public and non-governmental non-commercial organizations in the solution of social problems in our country is generally satisfactorily




Psychological dimension of social activity

Data on the civil standing among middle class representatives are supplemented with psychological monitoring in the study. Earlier it was established that self-association with lower, middle, or upper groups of the middle class is related to the differences in many variables of social self-determination. These variables include the importance of various spheres of life and subsequent satisfaction with them; values; goals and assessing one’s potential to achieve them.

The results indicate thatas the subjective economic status among middle class representatives grows,the motivation and direction of social activity shifts from personal (family) to social (work, society, country).

  1. Representatives of the lower middle class are focused on the family. They overcome complicated external conditions and try to improve their social position.
  2. The middle-middle class seeks to retain the status quo. Their social activity shows itself through work.
  3. The upper middle class is focused not only on personal interests (self-realization), but also on the country’s well-being. ‘Their social activity is focused on changing the society’, Kupreychenko emphasized. Respondents from this group include the largest share of those who belief themselves to be socially active, 76%.

Social activity: from detachment to demonstration

In order to conduct a deep analysis of the psychological determination of social activity, 4 types of social self-determination were outlined among the urban middle class. The criterion for the selection of these types was the importance of various spheres of life (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Differences between types of social self-determination through the criterion of importance of various spheres of life and directions of activity


1 – ‘Family-focused’ type, 2 – ‘Detaching from society’ type, 3 – ‘Status-focused’ type, 4 – ‘Demonstrative’ type
Source: A. Kupreychenko. The Problems of Determination of Social Activity among Russians.

The determined psychological types vary by intensity and direction of social self-determination..

  1. Social self-determination of the first type is focused on family. Almost all respondents of this type mentioned the key importance of this sphere of life. Security and public order in society is also important for them , since this means little can threaten their family. This group is apolitical.
  2. The social self-determination of the second type is detachment from society. This is a kind of mechanism for overcoming difficult situations. ‘Most probably these respondents prefer to adapt to social changes than actively fightfor their position in it’, Kupreychenko says.
  3. The social self-determination of the third type is focused on material wealth and high social position. Success in life is understood as involving a rising social status and high earnings. Culture and moral self-improvement, according to representatives of this type, can be an obstacle to success (exactly in this, strictly material, understanding of the latter).
  4. The social self-determination of the fourth type is the ‘demonstrative intensity’ of social activity. On one hand, social values for this type are less important than for the other groups. On the other hand, the importance of some life spheres for this type is lower than for other types. For example, family is a little less important for this group, than for the ‘home-loving’ and ‘apolitical’ first type.

Alla Kupreychenko also adds some demographic colour to this portrait of the socially active middle class. For example, among ‘detached’ respondents (16% of the surveyed) men make up three quarters of the respondents. Among representatives of the ‘demonstrative’ type (34%) there are more young people under 35. The researcher explains this with the fact that young people define themselves in societyin a different way to older people. Young people actively seek their place in the world and with this in mind, try out various life strategies.

A special position is taken by the first type of social self-determination (16%). ‘Approximately equal shares of men and women, young and older, says that ‘family values’ are universal, although not very popular nowadays’, the researcher concludes.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, April 29, 2013