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The unintended consequences of education policies on South African participation and unemployment

  • Rulof Burger
  • Servaas van der Berg and Dieter von Fintel
  • Dieter von Fintel

In the late 1990s the South African Department of Education implemented two policies that were meant to reduce the large number of over-age learners in the school system: schools were no longer allowed to accept students who were more than two years older than the correct grade-age and students could not be held back more than once in each of four schooling phases. Our analysis uses school administrative data and household survey data to show that these policies coincided with a decrease in school enrolment of at least 400,000 and possibly as many as 900,000 learners. This effect was most noticeable for over-aged learners who remained in school due to their poor labour market prospects. Most of these students seem to have been pushed into the labour market by these policies, which could explain much of the sudden increase in labour force participation and unemployment over this period. However, since these individuals would probably have entered the labour market sooner if not for their poor employment prospects, we argue that the increase in unemployment signifies a more accurate reflection of disguised unemployment that already existed in the mid-1990s rather than a deterioration of labour market conditions.

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Paper provided by Economic Research Southern Africa in its series Working Papers with number 289.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rza:wpaper:289
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  1. Nicola Branson & Martin Wittenberg, 2007. "The Measurement Of Employment Status In South Africa Using Cohort Analysis, 1994-2004," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 75(2), pages 313-326, 06.
  2. Lam, David & Ardington, Cally & Leibbrandt, Murray, 2011. "Schooling as a lottery: Racial differences in school advancement in urban South Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(2), pages 121-136, July.
  3. H. Bhorat & J. Hodge, 1999. "Decomposing Shifts in Labour Demand in South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 67(3), pages 155-168, 09.
  4. 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.
  5. Rulof Burger & Ingrid Woolard, 2005. "The State of the Labour Market in South Africa after the First Decade of Democracy," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 133, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  6. Rulof Burger & Dieter von Fintel, 2009. "Determining the Causes of the Rising South African Unemployment Rate: An Age, Period and Generational Analysis," Working Papers 158, Economic Research Southern Africa.
  7. 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.
  8. Derek Yu, 2007. "The comparability of the Statistics South Africa October Household Surveys and Labour Force Surveys," Working Papers 17/2007, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
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