According to the latest Understanding Africa’s middle class report released by Standard Bank yesterday, Africa has experienced substantial growth in its middle class over the past 14 years.
The report found that there are 15 million middle-class households in 11 of sub-Saharan Africa’s top economies this year, up from 4.6 million in 2000 and 2.4 million in 1990 – an increase of 230% over 14 years.
However, of the total number of households across these focal economies, 86% of them remain within the broadly “low income” band, emphasising the nascent maturation of many of the continent’s markets.
The report also found that the combined GDPs of the 11 measured economies had grown tenfold since 2000.
The study uses a proven methodology widely employed in South Africa. The report, based on the Living Standards Measure (LSM), gives investors to Africa data on which to base their investment decisions.
In the past, the conventional wisdom was that as many as 300 million Africans are categorised as ‘middle class’. The report shows that investors using an unquantifiable assumption might find individuals they had thought were middle class were in fact highly vulnerable to lose that status in any economic shock.
The report suggests that while the middle class may be smaller than previously thought, two factors should give investors greater comfort: by any methodology Africa’s middle class is growing strongly; and Africa’s income accumulation is far more broad-based than had previously been thought.
Standard Bank senior political economist Simon Freemantle, author of the report, said the new report is cause for optimism among investors as it suggests even greater scope for future growth, and indeed the report forecasts acceleration in the accumulation of middle-class households in Africa.
“Concerning the undoubted ongoing improvement in Africa’s economic performance has to be tempered with the reality that the level of this growth and the nominal size of the continent’s middle class had not until now been adequately measured,” said Freemantle.
He argues the previous figure of 300 million ‘middle class’ Africans were viewed as a best-estimate that has now been confirmed as to trend if not as to the total aggregate.
The report cites the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) influential 2011 study, ‘The Middle of the Pyramid: Dynamics of the Middle Class in Africa’, which by its methodology attached middle class status to individuals earning just USD4 to USD20 a day, and even a “floating class” of individual earning USD2 to USD4 a day, thereby categorising fully one-third of Africa’s people (over 300 million of them) as ‘middle class’.
“In fact, such individuals would still be exceptionally vulnerable to various economic shocks, and prone to lose their middle-income status.” explains Freemantle.
South Africa’s LSM measure as a methodology is not income-based but rather uses a wider range of analysis. The report covers 11 selected sub-Saharan African countries which combined account for half Africa’s total GDP (75% if excluding South Africa) and half its population.
The methodology identified LSM5 and above as middle class and categorises household income into four distinct income bands: low income; lower middle class; middle class and upper middle class.
“Standard Bank has attempted to fill the knowledge gap by using comprehensive household income data and adopting our own measure of the middle class using South Africa’s LSMs as a framework in order to provide cross-quantifiable reference points for peer African economies.”
The 11 focus economies are: Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
This methodology found there was an undeniable swelling of Africa’s middle class irrespective of which methodology was used.
“Looking ahead, an even greater elevation in income growth is anticipated in the next 15 years; between 2014 and 2030, we expect an additional 14 million middle-class households will be added across the 11 focal countries – tripling the current number. Including lower-middle-class households, the overall number swells to over 40 million households by 2030, from around 15 million today,” the report stated.