Ecuador's diverse middle class was concentrated in cities and
larger towns. A minute, ill-defined group during most of the
country's history, its numbers grew in the twentieth century. In
the late 1970s, estimates based on income indicated that roughly 20
percent of the population was middle class. Economic expansion
increased the opportunities available to the able and ambitious.
The rapid increase in government employment contributed both to the
size of the middle class in absolute numbers and to the group's
political awareness. The rise of a middle class whose interests
were not those of the rural oligarchy transformed national
Businessmen, professionals, clerical employees, mid-level
bureaucrats and managers, army officers, and teachers comprised the
middle levels of society. They constituted a diverse group, often
poorly defined in terms of both self-identity and criteria for
membership. At a minimum, an individual had attained a certain
level of education (at least a secondary school degree), practiced
an occupation that did not require manual labor, and manifested
proper manners and dress to be considered middle class.
The upper echelons frequently identified with and emulated the
elite. By contrast, the lower levels of the middle class often made
common cause with the more prosperous segments of the working
class. The cleavage between these two groups--a prosperous, uppermiddle class oriented toward the elite and a less economically
secure lower group often allied with the more privileged sectors of
the working class--was reflected in lifestyle, patterns of
association, and political loyalties.
In addition to the economic division, an ethnic component
emerged in the ranking of the various levels of the middle class.
In general, individuals became more "white" and less obviously
mestizo farther up the social ladder. In addition, the middle class
was ethnically more diverse than other groups. Over the years,
immigrants from southern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in
Latin America arrived to take advantage of expanding economic
opportunities on the Costa. These immigrants formed the core of
Ecuador's commercial interests.
Data as of 1989