Just as the political independence of 1947 and the economic reforms of 1991 transformed India into one of the world’s largest democracies and entrepreneurship respectively, the rise of the New Middle Class (NMC) will transform the India’s family structure, markets and workplace as we know today.
While independence resulted in democratisation and economic reforms resulted in democratisation of wealth, the rise of New Middle Class will forever democratise the family and employment markets.
But first, who is India’s New Middle Class (NMC) and how will it influence markets, work and family?
The New Middle Class is a young family where both husband and wife have college degrees and both have to work to economically survive and achieve their aspirations. Neither wants to have their parents to live with them. What matters to them is personal freedom. Time has become the scarce resource and since both work, there is permanent time shift and time poverty for daily activities of shopping, workings, sleep and recreation.
Swearing by the Smartphone
They cannot live without a personal smartphone of their own. They communicate by text messages to each other continuously. And they have a hard time catching up with what they want to or need to do over the weekend. Sunday becomes very precious and the couple resents any intrusion from the boss or from other family members.
To cope with life, both are desperately latching on to spirituality (but independent of religious rituals) and to holistic life style with yoga and meditation.
In my view, this rise of this New Middle Class is widespread, one way and a permanent discontinuity from the past. In other words, it is a non-linear change in values, opinions and activities from the previous generations. And the generation gap is no longer 25 years but as short as eight years. Often, the younger sister or brother cannot relate to their older siblings if they are six to eight years apart within the same family.
The joint family or even the extended family tradition will give way to a nucleus family structure where the definition of family itself is narrowed to husband, wife and any children. It does not include parents, brothers and sisters or uncles, aunts and cousins.
How will this non-linear change affect markets, family unit and the workplace? Here are some thoughts:
Outsourcing Comes Home
The New Middle Class has neither the time nor the inclination (or the competency) to make things at home. Instead, they will outsource the traditional homemaking activities such as cooking, cleaning and childcare. What happened to pickles will also happen to papad, rice, vegetables, curry and chapati. This New Middle Class will buy products and services instead of making them at home. And this goes for laundry, house cleaning and child care.
The good news is that when consumers make things at home, it is not however, calculated in the gross domestic product (GDP) of a nation but when they buy it from the market place, it is. The bad news is that the new generation of family will, over time, become incompetent in home making skills and therefore, will not cannot pass them on to the next generation. Succession stops here.
I have also observed that when the society gives up an activity, it always comes back as a hobby. For example, hunting, fishing, gardening, baking breads and now cooking have emerged as hobbies in America. The fastest growing hobby is cooking and the fastest growing cable channel is the Food Channel. We are making ordinary chefs into celebrities just as we do with show business (Bollywood) actors and professional sports players.
Goodbye to the Neighborhood Provision Store
This New Middle Class does not relate to the age-old neighborhood provision store owner who had a multi generation relationship with their parents and the delivery boy came everyday to replace the daily necessities. Similarly, the milk man, the laundry man and recyclable newspaper waste collector are not welcome anymore because there is nobody at home during the working hours.
Even more importantly, this New Middle Class wants to buy only branded products, which are ready to consume. It has no time to do the value add to unbranded grains such as rice, wheat and dhals or fresh vegetables from the market. And they want to do one stop shopping at a modern, self-service supermarket or hypermarket such as the Big Bazaar and the Metro. Branding matters a lot to them and they are both quality conscious and value conscious.
When Wants Become Needs
What were wants, desires and dreams of the past generations are all at once becoming necessities of this New Middle Class. It cannot live without smart phones, credit cards, flat screen televisions, laptop computers and a motorized vehicle such as a motorcycle or a scooter but preferably a car.
Of course, The New Middle Class does not have the means to satisfy all these needs. Furthermore, as a starter family, the real needs of child rearing and child education as well as taking care of aging parents will just begin. Therefore, affordability and ability to pay will put even more stress on them, resulting in a highly stressed employee at the workplace.
The Indian employers of tomorrow will have to understand and intervene in this home-work blurring of boundaries and the home-work balance.
The need to do financial planning, making a will and trust, balancing short-term versus long-term financial stability and building a healthy balance sheet will become not just a nice thing to do but a necessity.
Blurring Roles and Responsibilities
This New Middle Class family will be different from its parents in roles and responsibilities. The traditional role of the husband as the breadwinner, wife as the homemaker and mission of marriage to procreate next generation who will be better off than them is likely to go away. Also, The New Middle Class will become more egalitarian between the husband and the wife. It will encourage the husband to contribute toward household chores, including cleaning, cooking and child care. It will also mean that wife working outside the home will not be just a nice thing to do, but a necessity.
Friendship Replaces Kinship
Friendship will replace kinship for socialisation and support as The New Middle Class embraces new values, beliefs and activities. In other words, there will be less common with family members, especially older generation and more with friends from college, workplace or neighborhoods. This has enormous implications for marketers with respect to their messages and media. The New Middle Class and their friendship cohorts are perfect targets for social media about brands, stores and products.
Spiritualism Coexists with Materialism
As the New Middle Class disassociates with heritage and embraces contemporary values and life styles, it will increasingly struggle with self-identity. Greater the materialism driven by wants becoming needs as well as friendship replacing kinship as a social anchor, it will search for meaning of life by turning to spiritualism, yoga and meditation.
In other words, spiritualism will coexist with materialism unlike the past generations where spiritualism followed successful materialism at different stages of a family life cycle.
Whether this is good or bad for the future of society is for the historians to debate and judge. My view is that it is inevitable and most likely irreversible at least in the short run. However, most demographic shifts are not linear and often they reverse back to the older ways in a more contemporary context.
Professor Jagdish Sheth is the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing at Emory University Goizueta Business School.