JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's first-generation middle class lead a precarious existence, facing major new demands on their incomes, but they remain optimistic about their future.

According to futurefact 2013, based on a survey of 3,025 adults aged over 15 and living in communities of more than 500 people, some 4.8 million people put themselves into this category – having working class parents but self-identifying as middle class – of which three quarters (76%) were black.

The Media Online noted that the established middle class had accumulated wealth and skills over several generations and had significantly lower levels of debt. Consequently they were much less vulnerable to economic changes, whether that was losing a job or coping with rising prices.

"For the first-generation middle class, the distance between where they are now and where they've come from is very small," it said. "It is too easy to fail and get pulled back."

They were having to pay for many things, sometimes for the first time, including cars, fuel and electricity, rates and services and school fees, and finding less left over for consumer goods and food. Indeed, 38% said they often did not have sufficient money to pay their bills.

While money problems affected a minority, just over half said they had more spending money than previously. Most (80%) were cautious about getting into debt and preferred to save for those things they wanted to buy.

There was near universal awareness (90%) of the need to save and invest for the future. Not all were achieving this, however, as only six out of ten said their families were doing better financially and managing to save some money.

For all that, most reported that their standard of living was better than that of their parents, although only 48% expected their own children would be able to say the same.

Despite the financial hardships imposed by their new status, most of the new middle class were optimistic. Fully 84% agreed with the statement "It is possible to start out poor in this country, work hard and become rich".

Data sourced from The Media Online; additional content by Warc staff