Social Classes in Brazil
Brazilian society often relies on social classes when segmenting the demography of their population. This article will give you an introduction to how the concept of social classes works in Brazil.
Despite being considered as an old fashioned social institution, social classes in Brazil originated in the early 50’s, when the country experienced an economic boom that would last until the late 70’s.
Social classes have been a useful tool for strategist and marketers, as a way to segment the 200+ million people living in Brazil. There are still huge differences between rich and poor which is the exact reason why social classes have such relevance for segmenting demography in Brazil.
There are several different concepts of social classes in Brazil, but the one that is most widely adopted by the market classifies society in letters from A to E. This definition is based, overall, on the household's gross monthly income, as follows:
- Class A: above BRL 15.760
- Class B: above BRL 7.880
- Class C: above BRL 3.152
- Class D: above BRL 1.576
- Class E: below BRL 1.576
These are the classes as defined by The Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics, known as Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística or simply IBGE in Portuguese. IBGE defines the income based social classes in multiples of the national minimum salary which at the moment is BRL 788.
As the differences in the cost of living are quickly increasing between the metropolitan and rural areas of Brazil, this demographic segmentation will translate into different purchasing powers depending on the location of the household.
- Classes A and B: usually composed of those who have completed higher education. The younger generation in these classes tend to be fluent in several languages
- Class C: most people in this class have finished high school and there is also a significant quantity of people who have completed higher education or have at least a technical level degree
- Class D: people who tend not to finish high school
- Class E: people who do not attend or finish elementary school and illiterate people
The educational levels previously presented support the level of submission among the five different classes. This employment relationship can be simplified as:
- Class A: composed of bankers, investors, business owners, major landowners and people with extraordinary skills for the industry they operate in
- Class B: composed of directors and managers, judges, prosecutors, highly educated professors, doctors, well qualified engineers, lawyers, etc
- Class C: composed of those who provide services directly to the wealthier groups, such as teachers, managers, mechanics, electricians, nurses, etc
- Class D: composed of people who provide services to Class C, such as housemaids, bartenders, bricklayers, people who work for civil construction companies, small store owners, low-paid drivers, etc
- Class E: composed of people who earn minimum salaries, such as cleaners, street sweepers and also unemployed people
Distribution Across Social Classes
The well known Brazilian statistics firm IBOPE Inteligência published, in early 2015, an economic classification of the Brazilian population. Their model is a bit more complex than the simple measure of a household's gross monthly income. They use the same classification labels with letters from A to E but measure assets to normalise purchasing power.
- Class A: 2,7%
- Class B: 23,1%
- Class C: 47,5%
- Class D and E: 26,6%
Classes D and E are merged together as many of these households have less formal accommodation and they are difficult to accurately separate.
Geographic Distribution by Social Classes
In some regions there is a strong predominance of classes D and E, which is the case for the North, Northeast and Central-West regions, with the exception of the city of Brasília.
However, it is in the larger cities that social differences are most visible. A city like São Paulo, for example, has people from all five social classes. Sometimes this inequality can be observed in the same neighbourhood, where an upmarket building is located right next to a favela.
The same applies to Brasília, Brazil’s capital and one of the cities that, along with São Paulo, present the highest levels of inequality.
This inequality occurs due to an intense migration movement that results in a significant population increase and a centralisation of job opportunities and salaries.
The 2015 data published by IBOPE Inteligência suggests the following distribution of social classes per geographic region of Brazil:
This region includes the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
- Class A: 3,3%
- Class B: 29,7%
- Class C: 51,2%
- Class D and E: 15,9%
This region includes the states of Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.
- Class A: 3,2%
- Class B: 27,6%
- Class C: 53,5%
- Class D and E: 15,6%
This region includes the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe.
- Class A: 1,1%
- Class B: 12,3%
- Class C: 39,4%
- Class D and E: 47,2%
This region includes the states of Distrito Federal, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso.
- Class A: 3,7%
- Class B: 26%
- Class C: 48,5%
- Class D and E: 21,8%
This region includes the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins.
- Class A: 1,5%
- Class B: 13,7%
- Class C: 42,6%
- Class D and E: 42,1%