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Unemployment and wages in South Africa: A spatial approach


  • Geeta G. Kingdon
  • John B. Knight


A large amount of recent evidence finds a negative relationship between local unemployment and wages in OECD countries, a relationship christened a ‘wage curve’. This contradicts the conventional model of the labour market in which high unemployment regions have higher wages to compensate for search and other costs. This paper discovers a wage curve in South Africa, a country with several times the typical unemployment rate of OECD countries. The wage curve elasticity in South Africa is similar to that in OECD countries (-0.1) but persists over a much larger range of unemployment rates, implying that unemployment can have a large impact on wages in South Africa. However, this wage flexibility does not extend to union wages which are well insulated from local unemployment conditions. The results here also shed light on the segmentation of the labour market based on labour immobility and on the debate about the appropriate definition of unemployment in South Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Geeta G. Kingdon & John B. Knight, 1999. "Unemployment and wages in South Africa: A spatial approach," CSAE Working Paper Series 1999-12, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:1999-12

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    5. Krugman, Paul, 1979. "A Model of Balance-of-Payments Crises," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 11(3), pages 311-325, August.
    6. Adam, Christopher, 1995. "Fiscal adjustment, financial liberalization, and the dynamics of inflation: Some evidence from Zambia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 735-750, May.
    7. Bela Balassa, 1964. "The Purchasing-Power Parity Doctrine: A Reappraisal," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 72, pages 584-584.
    8. Flood, Robert P. & Garber, Peter M., 1984. "Collapsing exchange-rate regimes : Some linear examples," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1-2), pages 1-13, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Berk Özler, 2007. "Not Separate, Not Equal: Poverty and Inequality in Post-apartheid South Africa," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55, pages 487-529.
    2. Kingdon, Geeta & Knight, John, 2006. "The measurement of unemployment when unemployment is high," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 291-315, June.
    3. Kendall K. Schaefer, 2003. "Capacity Utilization, Income Distribution, and the Urban Informal Sector: An Open-Economy Model," Working Papers wp35, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
    4. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2004. "Unemployment in South Africa: The Nature of the Beast," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 391-408, March.
    5. David Castro Lugo, 2006. "Curva salarial: una aplicación para el caso de México, 1993-2002," Estudios Económicos, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos, vol. 21(2), pages 233-273.
    6. Edward F Buffie & Michele Andreolli & Bin Grace Li & Luis-Felipe Zanna, 2016. "Macroeconomic Dimensions of Public-Private Partnerships," IMF Working Papers 16/78, International Monetary Fund.
    7. Phillippe G. Leite & Terry McKinley & Rafael Guerreiro Osório, 2006. "The Post-Apartheid Evolution of Earnings Inequality in South Africa, 1995-2004," Working Papers 32, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
    8. Malakhov, Sergey, 2013. "Эффект Веблена, Предельная Полезность Денег И Денежная Иллюзия
      [Veblen effect, marginal utility of money, and money illusion]
      ," MPRA Paper 51014, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Katy Cornwell, 2006. "Language and Labour in South Africa: A new approach for a new South Africa," Monash Econometrics and Business Statistics Working Papers 5/06, Monash University, Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics.
    10. Frederick C.v.N. Fourie, 2011. "The South African unemployment debate: three worlds, three discourses?," SALDRU Working Papers 63, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

    More about this item


    wages; unemployment; wage curve; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • J60 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - General


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