Country Listing

Haiti Table of Contents


The Middle Class


Jacmel, a town on the southern peninsula

The middle class was essentially nonexistent during the nineteenth century. But at about the time of the United States occupation (1915-34), it became more defined (see The United States Occupation, 1915-34 , ch. 6). The creation of a professional military and the expansion of government services fostered the development of Haiti's middle class. Educational reform in the 1920s, an upsurge in black consciousness, and the wave of economic prosperity after World War II also contributed to the strengthening of the class. In the late 1980s, the middle class probably made up less than 5 percent of the total population, but it was growing, and it was becoming more politically powerful.

The mulatto elite dominated governments in the 1930s and the early 1940s and thwarted the political aspirations of the black middle class. President Dumarsais Estimé (1946-50) came to power with the aim of strengthening the middle class. The Duvalier government also claimed the allegiance of the black middle class, at least through the 1970s. During the Duvalier period, many in the middle class owed their economic security to the government. A number of individuals from this class, however, benefited from institutionalized corruption.

Some members of the middle class had acquired political power by the 1980s, but most continued to be culturally ambivalent and insecure. Class solidarity, identity, and traditions were all weak. The criteria for membership in the middle class included a nonmanual occupation, a moderate income, literacy, and a mastery of French. Middle-class Haitians sought upward mobility for themselves and their children, and they perceived education and urban residence as two essential keys to achieving higher status. Although they attempted to emulate the lifestyle of the upper class, middle-class Haitians resented the social preeminence and the color prejudice of the elite. Conflicts between the FrancoHaitian and the Afro-Haitian cultural traditions were most common among the middle class.

Data as of December 1989