The book “Upper Middle Class Social Reproduction” is built within the framework of Fondecyt Regular Nº1140136, “High middle class in Chile today: about the old and new barriers, practices, and costs of the reproduction of class position”, directed by María Luisa Méndez, principal investigator of COES and director of the school of sociology of the Diego Portales University, and whose co-investigator is Modesto Gayo, the political scientist and academic of the same university. From this background, the academics seek to know the practices, barriers, and costs associated with the position of the upper middle class in Chile today, characterizing changes and new demands in the real estate and educational markets, as well as in parenting practices, development of social and cultural capital, among other key areas of social reproduction.
This research examines the old and new mechanisms of social reproduction in the upper middle class, that is, those who occupy the privileged professional and managerial positions in the social structure. For their study, the academics combined georeferenced data and multi-stage conglomerate analysis, capturing the interconnections between macro and micro social dimensions such as urban dynamics, school choice, cultural repertoires and socio-spatial trajectories. In Chile, Santiago concentrates more than 60% of all the middle classes of the country and the bulk of what is traditionally known as the ABC1 – socio-economic classification that identifies the Chilean upper middle class, which is made up of groups A, B, and C1, the most privileged sector in Chile, which involves the highest income, but also the highest levels of social and cultural capital.
In particular, the upper middle class in Chile lives in five or more districts of the Metropolitan Region, which correspond to the high rent cone: Providencia, La Reina, Las Condes, Vitacura, and La Dehesa, and during the last decade the conurbanization of the sector that goes towards Colina and Chicureo. “It is where there are the greatest opportunities for social mobility throughout the country, where there is a greater labor supply in certain occupations, which are especially demanded and of higher status. All the resources are concentrated in this sector and this social class,” says the sociologist and co-author, María Luisa Méndez. “In this sector, there are also those schools which have a higher reputation – the elite schools, as recognized in the literature – and which provide different types of training in terms of language, colonies of origin, and/or religious aspects”.
Unlike other cases, where the elites are totally and completely segregated from the rest of the society, in Chile “there is a need to inhabit exclusive spaces but not in such an exclusionary sense. In other words, we see that the conformation of the neighborhood of the high-income cone includes or has a capacity to include professional sectors that, of course, have significant advantages with respect to the rest of society but do not live in a situation of complete exclusion and polarization”, says María Luisa. In turn, it is interesting to analyze “to what extent these positions work or do not as a hinge for the rest of society, because here we find the position of the heirs, let’s say groups or members of a high or upper middle class, which have belonged to the same families and same schools for several generations, and they have to somehow protect the privileged position”.
In these groups of greater privilege, there are positions that are composed by groups that are oriented more by merit and the groups that are arriving and are looking for what will be the principle that will regulate the membership of this social group. “They are guided by merit, they are very much in dialogue with what we have seen with Shamus Khan, that is, merit understood not as a valid principle for all, but as a principle that I aspire to be recognized only by me”.
The relevance of studying the upper middle class in Chile is that “there is an accumulation of advantages that occur around the same pattern, such as intensive parenting and school residential choice; therefore, there are difficulties for others to access those opportunities (…) and in that sense, the upper-middle class challenges social cohesion towards the rest of the social structure”.