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Inequality in South Africa: The distribution of income, expenditure and earnings


  • Fiona Tregenna
  • Mfanafuthi Tsela


This article empirically analyses the state of inequality in South Africa. International comparisons show South Africa to be among the most unequal countries in the world. The levels of income inequality and earnings inequality are analysed with a range of measures and methods. The results quantify the extremely high level of inequality in South Africa. Earnings inequality appears to be falling in recent years, with relative losses in the upper-middle parts of the earnings distribution. Decomposing income inequality by factor source reveals the importance of earnings in accounting for overall income inequality. The article concludes by observing that, internationally, significant sustained decreases in inequality rarely come about without policies aimed at achieving that, and suggests that strong policy interventions would be needed to reduce inequality in South Africa to levels that are in the range typically found internationally.

Suggested Citation

  • Fiona Tregenna & Mfanafuthi Tsela, 2012. "Inequality in South Africa: The distribution of income, expenditure and earnings," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(1), pages 35-61, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:deveza:v:29:y:2012:i:1:p:35-61 DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2012.645640

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Victor Matheson, 2006. "Mega-Events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economies," Working Papers 0610, College of the Holy Cross, Department of Economics.
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    7. Robert Baade & Victor Matheson, 2004. "The Quest for the Cup: Assessing the Economic Impact of the World Cup," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 343-354.
    8. Hagn, Florian & Maennig, Wolfgang, 2008. "Employment effects of the Football World Cup 1974 in Germany," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 1062-1075, October.
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    10. Stan du Plessis & Wolfgang Maennig, 2007. "World Cup 2010: South African Economic Perspectives and Perspectives Policy Challenges Informed by the Experience of Germany 2006," Working Papers 004, Chair for Economic Policy, University of Hamburg.
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    Cited by:

    1. Porras, Laila, 2015. "Croissance, inégalités et pauvreté au sein des pays émergents : le cas des BRICS," Revue de la Régulation - Capitalisme, institutions, pouvoirs, Association Recherche et Régulation, vol. 18.
    2. Martin Wittenberg, 2017. "Measurement of earnings: Comparing South African tax and survey data," SALDRU Working Papers 212, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    3. Tregenna, Fiona, 2011. "Halving Poverty in South Africa: Growth and Distributional Aspects," WIDER Working Paper Series 060, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    4. Kwenda, Prudence & Benhura, Miracle, 2015. "A Detailed Decomposition Analysis of the Public-Private Sector Wage Gap in South Africa," IZA Discussion Papers 9271, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Miracle Ntuli & Prudence Kwenda, 2013. "Labour Unions and Wage Inequality Among African Men in South Africa," Working Papers 13159, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    6. Mveyange Anthony, 2015. "Night lights and regional income inequality in Africa," WIDER Working Paper Series 085, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

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