Changing Patterns of South African income distribution: Towards time series estimates of distribution and poverty

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP02/2003

Author(s): Servaas van der Berg, Megan Louw

JEL Classification: D31, D33, D63, E25, C81, J3, O1

Keywords: income distribution, South Africa, time series, poverty

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Research on income distribution in South Africa has, for obvious reasons, focused on inter-racial (inter-group) income distribution. Quite dramatic changes have occurred in inter-racial income distribution patterns since the 1970s, with the black share of income rising for the first time and at times exceeding the rise in their population share. This implies a narrowing inter-racial income gap. Data on income distribution remain scarce, so that it remains difficult to obtain the full picture about changes in income distribution. In particular, widening inequality within the black population has received much attention. Rises in black unemployment and in black wages have had inequality-inducing effects on black incomes. Is maldistribution of income between races now making way for maldistribution of income within race groups? Put differently, is inequality shifting from inter-group to intra-group inequality (from between group to within group inequality)? This paper pieces together information from various sources of data (censuses, household surveys, marketing surveys, published wage data series, etc.) to inform estimates of inter- and intra-group distribution over a longer time frame, in an effort to improve analysis of income inequality and poverty trends. These income distribution patterns also have considerable implications for the growth and evolution of the South African consumer market.