The Middle Class

Panama Table of Contents

The middle class was predominantly mestizo, but it included such diverse elements as the children and grandchildren of black Antilleans, the descendants of Chinese laborers on the railroad, Jews, more recent immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, and a few former elite families fallen on hard times. Like the elite, the middle class was largely urban, although many small cities and towns of the interior had their own middle-class families. The middle class encompassed small businessmen, professionals, managerial and technical personnel, and government administrators. Its membership was defined by those who, by economic assets or social status, were not identifiably elite but who were still markedly better off than the lower class. As a whole, the middle class benefited from the economic prosperity of the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the general expansion in educational opportunities in the late twentieth century.

Members of the middle class who had held such status for any length of time were rarely content to remain fixed on the social scale. Emulating elite norms and attitudes, they exerted great effort to continue their climb up the social ladder. They were aware of the importance of education and occupation in determining status and the compensatory role these variables could play in the absence of family wealth or social background. Middle-class parents made great sacrifices to send their children to the best schools possible. Young men were encouraged to acquire a profession, and young women were steered toward office jobs in government or business. In contrast with the elite, the middle class viewed teaching as an appropriate occupation for a young woman.

Nationalist sentiment served to unify the diverse elements of the middle class in the decades following World War II. University students, who were predominantly middle class in family background, typified both the intense nationalism and the political activism of the middle class. Political observers noted a sharp class cleavage in the political consciousness of the Spanish-speaking natives and the more recent, unassimilated immigrant families. Middle-class immigrants tended to be preoccupied with commercial pursuits and largely conservative or passive in their politics.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress