TREND: The global middle class will grow to exceed 1 billion over the next decade (with the majority of this growth in Asia) creating a new generation with access to information, content and services

Studies by the Brookings Institute (2010), The Boston Consulting Group (2010), the US National Intelligence Council (2012) and the McKinsey Global Institute (2012), predict that over the next decade the global middle class will grow to exceed one billion people in the developing world. The majority of this growth will take place in Asia which according to the OECD (OECD Yearbook 2012) is expected to account for 66% of the global middle class population and 59% of middle class consumption by 2030 (in comparison to 28% and 23% in 2009). This trend, in conjunction with rising levels of Internet access and connectivity in the developing world will provide a new generation of global consumers with access to information, content and services. According to the Boston Consulting Group (2010 report, page 17) by 2015, Brazil, Russia, India and China will have 1.2 billion Internet users. As well as representing a potential growth engine/market for products and services – the tastes, preferences and political/economic aspirations of this new middle class will represent a tectonic shift in the demographic and cultural landscape of the Internet.

A 2012 report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (see page 29) suggests that the emergence of a global middle class is likely to narrow material and cultural divides and foster the evolution of a global set of values which are more inclined towards the promotion of democracy and fundamental rights. Global advocacy networks which support human rights such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are already benefiting significantly from the amplifier effect of new information and communications technologies (see page 31). In his May 2011 Report (see page 4) to the General Assembly, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression highlighted the role of the Internet as one of “the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for building active citizen participation in building democratic societies”.

The 2012 US National Security Council Report, Global Trends 2030 (see page 11), offers a case study on the rising use of online social media by women in Muslim countries. The report argues that despite some data correlating online access with radicalisation, “indications of female empowerment and solidarity are far more plentiful”, and that women are increasingly using online communities to reach beyond their everyday social networks into “safe spaces” to discuss women’s rights, gender equality and the role of women in Islamic law. As participation in online forums is closely linked with both income and literacy, the NIC predicts that as the global middle class expands, female online participation will increase with potentially significant repercussions for societies and governments.

The 2012 report by ESPAS, Global Trends 2030 – Citizens in an interconnected and polycentric world, suggests that the convergence of a rising global middle class in conjunction with new technologies will narrow the global digital divide whilst ensuring that the “citizens of 2030 will want a greater say in their future than those of previous generations” (see page 12). While the report predicts greater citizen empowerment in the developing world as a consequence of increased access to information, it also notes that globalisation and interdependence can also sponsor feelings of frustration and impotence in the face of world events beyond the influence of many individuals and governments (see page 47). In this context the expectations gap between increased access to information and on-going socio-economic inequalities could also sponsor a rise in identity politics and nationalism (see page 155).