We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Bolivia: The Middle Class
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Social Organization > Urban Society > The Middle Class


The middle class occupied an equivocal position. It ran the gamut in prestige and position from truck drivers and petty merchants to highly paid professionals and business owners and operators. Almost as much range existed within this class as between the two adjoining groups. For lack of common criteria, the middle class was defined largely in terms of occupational specialization and economic status: its members were successful merchants, white-collar workers in commerce or government service, and educated professionals lacking the family requirements for upper-class status. At its lower levels, the middle class faded into the more prosperous elements of the working class. In many ways, the differences between the middle class at its fringes and the adjoining upper and lower groups were of degree rather than kind. Both in ethos and in livelihood, the middle class shared much with those above and below it on the social scale.

Social mobility and elite exclusiveness were the dynamics that formed the middle class. The group emerged from the upheaval of colonial society both through intermarriage between Spaniards and Indians and through the general influx of Indians into cities and towns. The modern middle class, however, received its impetus from the tin-mining boom. Tin mining created demand for educated administrators and expanded the opportunities available to the middle echelons traditionally tied to commerce. Between 1900 and 1950, the composition of the country's university-educated elite changed. Its percentage of clergy, doctors, and lawyers declined, while that of teachers and engineers grew. As with other wage earners, salaried professionals remained vulnerable to economic reversals.

The wealthier members of the middle class tended to follow elite mores and aspired to an upper-class life-style and acceptance into that group. As one moved down the social scale, these values became less pronounced. Cholos, who were typically bilingual in Spanish and one or more Indian languages, made up the lower levels of the middle class. They adhered less to Hispanic norms than did other members of the middle class, and they actually reflected the influence of their Indian heritage. A dichotomy existed between the identification and values of cholo men and women. Men adhered to Hispanic norms and values more closely, attempting to emulate that life-style. Women adopted an identity that blended indigenous and Hispanic elements. They often engaged in commerce and were formidable businesswomen.

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bolivia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Bolivia Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 52 of 171


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

($b) Bolivian Boliviano (BOB)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map