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The Swiss middle class is not in decline, it is growing fast

The middle class in Switzerland is not shrinking. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, the labour market did not become polarised in Switzerland during the 1990s and 2000s. The 12th issue of the Social Change in Switzerland journal shows that employment has indeed increased in highly-qualified professions and reduced in low-skilled jobs.

Observers of the digital revolution fear that automation threatens a number of skilled professions. Employment would then only increase at the margins - in well-paid intellectual professions and poorly-paid personal service jobs. This would result in the collapse of the middle class.

In a new study, Daniel Oesch and Emily Murphy refute this theory. Using population censuses from 1970 to 2010, they show that in each decade employment grew most in the highest-paid professions and notably decreased in lower-paid jobs, except during the real estate boom of the 1980s.

This improvement in the employment structure can be explained by the increase in the salaried middle class, supported by a significant expansion of educational attainments. Between 1991 and 2016, executives, managers and other experts increased from 34% to 48% of the working population while the amount of production workers fell from 23% to 16%, and assistant office workers decreased from 17% to 8%.

Only one working class category has grown since 1991: workers in the personal services sector, which grew from 13% to 15%. However, this increase has not been significant enough to compensate for the jobs lost in the agricultural, industrial and back-office sectors. Consequently, technological progress has not diminished the middle class, but has led to a fall in the number of industrial workers and low-skilled administrative staff.

>> Daniel Oesch & Emily Murphy (2017). Keine Erosion, sondern Wachstum der Mittelklasse. Der Wandel der Schweizer Berufsstruktur seit 1970 / La classe moyenne n’est pas en déclin, mais en croissance. L’évolution de la structure des emplois en Suisse depuis 1970. Social Change in Switzerland No 12, www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact : Daniel Oesch, +34 91 624 85 08, daniel.oesch@unil.ch

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.