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Poverty, Inequality and the Nature of Economic Growth in South Africa

Author

Listed:
  • Haroon Bhorat
  • Carlene Van Der Westhuizen

    () (Development Policy Research Unit
    Director and Professor)

Abstract

The post-1994 period in the South African economy is characterised, perhaps most powerfully, by the fact that the economy recorded one of its longest periods of positive economic growth in the country’s history. One of the more vexing issues within the economic policy terrain in post-apartheid South Africa though, has been the impact of this consistently positive growth performance on social welfare. Many observers have highlighted the potentially harmful consequences of persistently high levels of poverty and particularly, economic inequality on the quality and sustainability of democracy. The evidence suggests, at best, six key trends which are noteworthy in terms of observing changes and challenges in South Africa’s second decade of democracy. Firstly, it is clear that both absolute and relative levels of poverty have fallen for African- and female-headed households. And it is a result invariant to the choice of poverty line. Secondly though, we continue to show that race and gender remain overwhelming determinants of this poverty profile. Thirdly, the trends in income inequality suggest that one of the world’s most unequal societies has quite possibly become the most unequal. In turn, and our fourth key deduction, it is evident that income inequality between racial groups – to all intents and purposes between Africans and Whites – is driving this overall increase. Our analysis of the nature of economic growth since 1995 suggests that despite positive economic growth, individuals at the top-end of the distribution have gained the most from the post-apartheid growth dividend. Indeed, what this suggests is that the country’s current democratic growth model is crafted around supporting incomes at the bottom-end of the distribution through an extensive social transfer programme, whilst offering few returns to those in the middle of the distribution. It is not evident, as South Africa enters its first post-1994 recession with declining tax revenues and rising fiscal deficits, whether such a growth model is indeed desirable or sustainable.

Suggested Citation

  • Haroon Bhorat & Carlene Van Der Westhuizen, 2012. "Poverty, Inequality and the Nature of Economic Growth in South Africa," Working Papers 12151, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
  • Handle: RePEc:ctw:wpaper:12151
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-766, May.
    2. Kalie Pauw & Liberty Mncube, 2007. "Expanding the Social Security Net in South Africa: Opportunities, Challenges and Constraints," Working Papers 07127, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    3. Ravallion, Martin, 2001. "Growth, Inequality and Poverty: Looking Beyond Averages," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 29(11), pages 1803-1815, November.
    4. Murray Leibbrandt & Laura Poswell & Pranushka & Matthew Welch & Ingrid Woolard, 2004. "Measuring recent changes in South African inequality and poverty using 1996 and 2001 census data," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 084, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    5. Ravallion, Martin, 2004. "Pro-poor growth : A primer," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3242, The World Bank.
    6. Murray Leibbrandt & James Levinsohn & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Incomes in South Africa Since the Fall of Apartheid," NBER Working Papers 11384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Ravallion, Martin & Chen, Shaohua, 2003. "Measuring pro-poor growth," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 93-99, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Flatø, Martin & Muttarak, Raya & Pelser, André, 2017. "Women, Weather, and Woes: The Triangular Dynamics of Female-Headed Households, Economic Vulnerability, and Climate Variability in South Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 41-62.
    2. Haroon Bhorat & Benjamin Stanwix & Derek Yu, 2014. "Non-Income Welfare And Inclusive Growth In South Africa," Working Papers 201407, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    3. repec:dug:actaec:y:2017:i:3:p:155-168 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:eco:journ1:2017-04-34 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:dug:actaec:y:2016:i:5:p:33-50 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Kehinde O. Omotoso & Steven F. Koch, 2017. "Exploring Child Poverty and Inequality in Post-Apartheid South Africa: A Multidimensional Perspective," Working Papers 201718, University of Pretoria, Department of Economics.
    7. Chloé van Biljon & Dieter von Fintel & Atika Pasha, 2018. "Bargaining to work: the effect of female autonomy on female labour supply," Working Papers 04/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Poverty; Inequality; Social Transfers;

    JEL classification:

    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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