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Real wages at the Cape of Good Hope: A long-term perspective, 1652-1912

  • Pim de Zwart
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    Employing recently assembled wage and price data, this paper sketches the long-term development of real wages at the Cape of Good Hope, from its foundation in 1652 up to the unification of South Africa in 1910. The results show that real wages were consistently above subsistence level, and living standards were continuously improving throughout the period under discussion. The comparison with the most developed parts of Europe has shown that during the early decades of the colony’s existence, the Cape labourers had a relatively low purchasing power. Yet, by the end of the eighteenth century living standards began to close the gap, and during the nineteenth century, Cape living standards were on a par with those on the European continent. An analysis of growth rates suggests that during the second half of the seventeenth century growth was minimal. The eighteenth century was a period of steady (though not spectacular) growth of Cape living standards, while during the same century workers in other parts of the world saw their purchasing power diminish. The nineteenth century, on the other hand, was a period of a general rise of prosperity in Europe, in the light of which the Cape’s welfare growth seems exceptionally slow (in spite of secure property rights and resource windfalls). These findings contrast with the conventional view of South Africa’s economic history.

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    File URL: http://www.cgeh.nl/sites/default/files/WorkingPapers/CGEH.WP_.No13.PimdeZwart.pdf
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    Paper provided by Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History in its series Working Papers with number 0013.

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    Length: 22 pages
    Date of creation: Aug 2011
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:ucg:wpaper:0013
    Contact details of provider: Postal: University of Utrecht, Drift 10, The Netherlands
    Web page: http://www.cgeh.nl
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    1. Boshoff, Willem H. & Fourie, Johan, 2010. "The significance of the Cape trade route to economic activity in the Cape Colony: a medium-term business cycle analysis," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(03), pages 469-503, December.
    2. Sue Bowden & Blessing Chiripanhura & Paul Mosley, 2008. "Measuring and explaining poverty in six African countries: A long-period approach," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 1049-1079.
    3. Sophia du Plessis & Stan du Plessis, 2012. "Happy in the service of the Company: the purchasing power of VOC salaries at the Cape in the 18th century," Working Papers 01/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. Robert Allen & Robert C. Allen, 2007. "Wages, Prices, and Living Standards in China, Japan, and Europe, 1738-1925," Economics Series Working Papers 316, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    5. zmucur, S leyman & Pamuk, Sevket, 2002. "Real Wages And Standards Of Living In The Ottoman Empire, 1489 1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(02), pages 293-321, June.
    6. Robert C. Allen & Jean-Pascal Bassino & Debin Ma & Christine Moll-Murata & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2009. "Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738-1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan and India," Economic History Working Papers 27871, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    7. Allen, Robert C. & Bengtsson, Tommy & Dribe, Martin (ed.), 2005. "Living Standards in the Past: New Perspectives on Well-Being in Asia and Europe," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199280681.
    8. Ewout Frankema & Marlous van Waijenburg, 2011. "African Real Wages in Asian Perspective, 1880-1940," Working Papers 0002, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    9. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
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