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Education and Inequality: The South African Case

  • Nicola Branson


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

  • Julia Garlick
  • David Lam
  • Murray Leibbrandt


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

Following the international literature, income inequality decompositions on data from contemporary South Africa show that the labour market is the key driver of overall household inequality. In order to understand one of the channels driving this labour market inequality, we use national household survey data to review changing returns to education in the South African labour market over the last 15 years; with a focus on both the returns to getting employment as well as the earnings returns for those that have employment. We show that South Africa has experienced a skills twist with the returns to matric and post-secondary education rising and the returns to levels of education below this remaining constant. Then, based on a regression based decomposition of earnings inequality, we show how this has impacted earnings inequality. Indeed, the increase in returns to post-secondary education has directly counteracted the equalising gains that have been made by increased educational attainment, resulting in consistent levels of inequality over time.

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Paper provided by Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town in its series SALDRU Working Papers with number 75.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ldr:wpaper:75
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  1. David Lam & Cally Ardington & Murray Leibbrandt, 2007. "Schooling as a Lottery: Racial Differences in School Advancement in Urban South Africa," Working Papers 56, Economic Research Southern Africa.
  2. Tregenna, F., 2009. "The Relationship Between Unemployment and Earnings Inequality in South Africa," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0907, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  3. James Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1998. "Explaining Rising Wage Inequality: Explanations With A Dynamic General Equilibrium Model of Labor Earnings With Heterogeneous Agents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(1), pages 1-58, January.
  4. Cobus Burger & Servaas van der Berg, 2011. "Modelling cognitive skills, ability and school quality to explain labour market earnings differentials," Working Papers 08/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  5. Schultz, T.P. & Mwabu, G., 1995. "Education Returns Across Quantiles of the Wage Function: Alternative Explanation for Returns to Education by Race in South Africa," Papers 744, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  6. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2004. "From Physical to Human Capital Accumulation: Inequality and the Process of Development," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(4), pages 1001-1026.
  7. Anne Case & Motohiro Yogo, 1999. "Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Schools in South Africa," Working Papers 219, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  8. 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.
  9. Murray Leibbrandt & Ingrid Woolard & Arden Finn & Jonathan Argent, 2010. "Trends in South African Income Distribution and Poverty since the Fall of Apartheid," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 101, OECD Publishing.
  10. Doubell Chamberlain & Servaas van der Berg, 2002. "Earnings functions, labour market discrimination and quality of education in South Africa," Working Papers 02/2002, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  11. van der Berg, Servaas, 2008. "How effective are poor schools? Poverty and educational outcomes in South Africa," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 69, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
  12. Rulof Burger & Rachel Jafta, 2006. "Returns to Race: Labour Market Discrimination in Post-Apartheid South Africa," Working Papers 04/2006, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  13. Lam, David & Ardington, Cally & Branson, Nicola & Leibbrandt, Murray, 2013. "Credit constraints and the racial gap in post-secondary education in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 111, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  14. Gould, Eric D & Moav, Omer & Weinberg, Bruce A, 2001. " Precautionary Demand for Education, Inequality, and Technological Progress," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 285-315, December.
  15. Servaas van der Berg, 2007. "Apartheid's Enduring Legacy: Inequalities in Education-super- 1," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(5), pages 849-880, November.
  16. 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.
  17. Malcolm Keswell & Laura Poswell, 2004. "Returns To Education In South Africa: A Retrospective Sensitivity Analysis Of The Available Evidence," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 72(4), pages 834-860, 09.
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