The middle class in Malaysia

Market expansion, consumption and vulnerabilities

Authored by: Abdul Rahman Embong

Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Malaysia

Print publication date:  October  2014
Online publication date:  October  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415816731
eBook ISBN: 9781315756240
Adobe ISBN: 9781317629597


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The middle class has become a very important social force influencing the direction of social and political change, as well as the consumer industry. Looking at the growth and expansion of the middle class historically, it can be said that the middle class has undergone three phases of emergence and expansion, the first phase being in Europe after the Industrial Revolution around 1800, while the second was also in Europe, North America and Japan after World War II. Today, it is argued that we are witnessing the third phase of expansion, with the so-called ‘emerging markets’ – namely, Asia – being the centre of growth (Ernst & Young 2013: 1). While some scholars aptly regarded the twentieth century as ‘the century of the middle class’ (Fujimura 2000), the twenty-first century, which is witnessing the third phase of middle-class growth, is characterised by an unparalleled expansion of this class across the globe, thereby shifting the base of consumption from the West to the East, as will be shown below.

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