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Fifteen Years On: Household Incomes in South Africa

  • Murray Leibbrandt
  • James Levinsohn

This paper uses national household survey data to examine changes in real per capita incomes in South Africa between 1993 and 2008; the start and the end of the first fifteen years of post-apartheid South Africa. These data show an increase in average per capita real incomes across the distribution. Over this period growth has been shared, albeit unequally, across almost the entire spectrum of incomes. However, kernel density estimations make clear that these real income changes are not dramatic and inequality has increased. We conduct a series of semi-parametric decompositions in order to understand the role of endowments and changes in the returns to these endowments in driving these observed changes in the income distribution. This analysis highlights the positive role played by changes in endowments such as access to education and social services over the period. If these endowment changes were all that changed in South Africa over the post-apartheid period, we would have seen a pervasive rightward shift of the distribution of per capita real incomes. In the rest of the paper we explore why this did not happen.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16661.

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Date of creation: Jan 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming: Fifteen Years On: Household Incomes in South Africa , Murray Leibbrandt, James Levinsohn. in African Successes: Government and Institutions, Volume 1 , Edwards, Johnson, and Weil. 2015
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16661
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  1. Abhijit Banerjee & Sebastian Galiani & Jim Levinsohn & Zoë McLaren & Ingrid Woolard, 2007. "Why Has Unemployment Risen in the New South Africa," NBER Working Papers 13167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Thomas, D., 1996. "Education Across Generations in South Africa," Papers 96-16, RAND - Reprint Series.
  3. 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.
  4. Case, Anne & Deaton, Angus, 1998. "Large Cash Transfers to the Elderly in South Africa," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1330-61, September.
  5. Johann Kirsten & Julian May & Sheryl Hendriks & Charles L. Machethe & Cecelia Punt & Mike Lyne, 2007. "South Africa," Chapters, in: Beyond Food Production, chapter 8 Edward Elgar.
    • Nick Vink & Gavin Williams & Johann Kirsten, 2004. "South Africa," Chapters, in: The World's Wine Markets, chapter 12 Edward Elgar.
  6. Ingrid Woolard & Murray Leibbrandt, 2010. "The Evolution and Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 51, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  7. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  8. 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.
  9. Dinardo, J. & Fortin, N.M. & Lemieux, T., 1994. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: a Semiparametric Approach," Cahiers de recherche 9406, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
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