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Changes in education, employment and earnings in South Africa – A cohort analysis


  • Nicola Branson

    () (SALDRU, School of Economics, University of Cape Town)

  • Cally Ardington

    () (SALDRU, School of Economics, University of Cape TownAuthor-Email:)

  • David Lam

    () (University of Michigan)

  • Murray Leibbrandt

    () (SALDRU, School of Economics, University of Cape Town)


Rapid increases in educational attainment and the massification of secondary education in South Africa resulted in substantial differences in the supply and quality of educated workers across generations. This paper describes changes in the distribution of education across birth cohorts and how these relate to changes in the probability of employment, the distribution of earnings and the earnings premiums to complete secondary and tertiary education. Tracking cohorts over time allows us to disentangle generational and life-cycle components of these changes. Younger cohorts are shown to have increasingly faced worse labour market conditions than their predecessors, although this may be changing for cohorts born after 1980. Furthermore, the relative reward to complete secondary and tertiary education has remained positive, and increased for tertiary educated cohorts born since the 1960s. Increases in earnings inequality among those with complete secondary education suggests increased variance in education quality during the period when completed secondary education expanded rapidly.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicola Branson & Cally Ardington & David Lam & Murray Leibbrandt, 2013. "Changes in education, employment and earnings in South Africa – A cohort analysis," SALDRU Working Papers 105, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  • Handle: RePEc:ldr:wpaper:105

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Haroon Bhorat, 2004. "Labour Market Challenges In The Post-Apartheid South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 72(5), pages 940-977, December.
    2. Martins, Pedro S. & Pereira, Pedro T., 2004. "Does education reduce wage inequality? Quantile regression evidence from 16 countries," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 355-371, June.
    3. Nicholas Spaull, 2012. "Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa," Working Papers 13/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rulof Burger & Servaas Berg & Dieter Fintel, 2015. "The Unintended Consequences of Education Policies on South African Participation and Unemployment," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 83(1), pages 74-100, March.
    2. Emily Frame & Ariane de Lannoy & Murray Leibbrandt, 2016. "Measuring multidimensional poverty among youth in South Africa at the sub-national level," SALDRU Working Papers 169, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

    More about this item


    Educational attainment; Earnings; Employment; South Africa; Cohort analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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