Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Janet C. Gornick


John Bowman

Committee Members

John Bowman

David Brady

Kenneth Erickson

Frances Fox Piven

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Economic Policy | Social Policy


Middle Class Decline and Growth, Party Control of Government, Neo-liberal Reforms, Wage Bargaining Institutions, Social Insurance Policy, Industrialized Democracies


This research explains why some industrialized democracies have experienced middle class decline while others have experienced middle class growth since the 1980s. The prevailing political science literature based on the median voter theory predicts that middle class decline should not occur in democracies, whereas economic theories fail to explain national variation of middle class decline by attributing the decline to common developments such as globalization or technological change. I analyze data from the Luxembourg Income Study Database, the Comparative Welfare States Dataset, and the Comparative Welfare Entitlement Dataset, and demonstrate a significant partisan effect on middle class decline. I argue that middle class decline is contingent on the type of right party that is dominant in the country. Christian Democratic parties differ from secular right parties in shaping the institutions of social insurance and wage-settings over the course of neoliberal policy reforms since the 1980s. Due to their ideological orientation, Christian right parties have been much less receptive to the neoliberal turn than secular right parties. Christian Democrats have tempered income polarization and income insecurity by supporting broad bargaining coverage and maintaining generous income-related social insurance policies.