The Erosion of Southern Europe's Middle Classes: debt, insecurity and the political economy of austerity

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Publication details

JournalSociologia e politiche sociali
DatePublished - 9 Nov 2017
Issue number2
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)67-86
Original languageEnglish


Our article examines the position of middle classes in the social reproduction of southern European political economies, in the light of the sovereign debt crisis. The first part analyses the rise of middle classes, especially during the consolidation of familistic welfare capitalisms in the southern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. The second part discusses the transformation of southern European political economies after their entry in the European Monetary Union and its negative effects on middle classes’ socio-economic security. The third part explores how the fiscal consolidation measures adopted as a response to the sovereign debt crisis resulted in the further undermining of southern European middle classes’ income and employment security. We discuss how the new European economic governance advanced after the crisis challenges the politico-economic foundations of southern European political economies by transforming them into ‘consolidation states’ (Streeck, 2013). Using EU-SILC data on disposable income we also demonstrate the differential impact of austerity measures across the income distribution and explore its considerable variation between and within southern European countries. We conclude that after the crisis the erosion of middle classes has accelerated and, as a consequence, the traditional mode of social reproduction of southern European welfare capitalisms is wearing away. However, the speed and depth of this erosion and its political fallout are not uniform across the countries of the region.

    Research areas

  • middle class, austerity, crisis, debt, insecurity, South Europe

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