IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The South African poor white problem in the early 20th century: Lessons for poverty today


  • Johan Fourie

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)


The causes of the poor white problem, first noted at a Dutch Reformed Church Synod in 1886, were unclear; many blamed the inadequate education system, urbanisation, cheap wages or cultural factors, while others argued that external events such as the rinderpest disease or the Anglo-Boer war added to the numbers of poor whites. Today, poverty is still at the heart of many policy debates in South Africa. A bad educational legacy, urbanisation, labour legislation, culture and tradition, and external factors are still amongst the factors said to be the causes of poverty. This paper assesses the similarities and differences between black poverty today and white poverty a century ago, and suggests possible policy lessons to learn from the past.

Suggested Citation

  • Johan Fourie, 2006. "The South African poor white problem in the early 20th century: Lessons for poverty today," Working Papers 14/2006, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers28

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: First version, 2006
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 1999. "School Inputs and Educational Outcomes in South Africa," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 1047-1084.
    2. Servaas Van Der Berg & Megan Louw, 2004. "Changing Patterns Of South African Income Distribution: Towards Time Series Estimates Of Distribution And Poverty," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 72(3), pages 546-572, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2016. "Economic Development In Africa And Europe: Reciprocal Comparisons," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(01), pages 11-37, March.

    More about this item


    poverty; poor white problem; inequality; policy proposals;

    JEL classification:

    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • N97 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Africa; Oceania
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers28. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Melt van Schoor). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.