- A new study made at the University of Cape Town reveals that important changes have occurred in social mobility across racial lines in South Africa during the last decade. Studying the top end of South Africa's earners, the study found that by now, almost half of the country's affluent belong to South Africa's black majority.
Most previous studies examining social mobility and inequality in South Africa have looked at the bottom of the income distribution, investigating changes in the severity and also the racial incidence of poverty. These conclude that little has changed, regarding wealth distribution along racial lines.
The new University of Cape Town study, however, explores the same topic by studying the top of the income distribution. A totally new picture of social mobility in post-apartheid South Africa thus emerges.
The study - by Rulof Burger, Ronelle Burger and Servaas van der Berg - was released this week by the university's Development Policy Research Unit. The paper investigates how affluence predictors vary between different race groups in today's South Africa, ten years after the fall of apartheid. It concludes on "a dramatic increase in black affluence."
The nature and extent of black affluence in South Africa provides "an indicator of the impact of efforts to eradicate the remnants of apartheid-era racial discrimination in the South African education system and labour market," the authors point out.
The study found that the prevalence of affluence among South Africa's black majority is still low in relative terms, while it had grown considerably. Blacks' share of the affluent rose from 22 percent in 1995 to 41 percent by 2000. The proportion of blacks among the very affluent increased from 15 percent to 28 percent over the same period.
The researchers thus found it proven that "there has been a strong increase in the social mobility of blacks since the political transition in 1994. It is clear that there has been substantial progress in eradicating labour market discrimination," the study adds.
- Our typology of the affluent shows that race is a strong defining characteristic for the clusters identified in 1995 and 2000, the authors however say. Encouragingly, though, "the evidence indicates that there is a large young racially integrated group emerging among the affluent."
These households were found to have income levels below the average for the affluent. Household heads belonging to this group, however, "have educational attainment levels exceeding the average for the affluent suggesting that income might rise to match or exceed average levels for the affluent as the group matures," the study says.
Apart from finding an unexpected growth in affluence among the racial population majority, the study however confirmed many of the traditional views of social mobility in South Africa. Gender and age of the household head as well as rural residence are strongly influencing the income level in South Africa. A rural household headed by a woman thus statistically can expect to be among the poorest in the country.
Also in line with conventional wisdom is the role of education and the quality of education for affluence. "The persistent significance of the white education interaction effect shows that racial differences in the returns to education have endured. Analysis of South African education data demonstrates that blacks are still receiving an education that is inferior in quality," the authors conclude.
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