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PhD Thesis 

Candidate: Dieter von Fintel
Supervisor: Professor Servaas van der Berg
Institution: Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Department of Economics


Microeconometric techniques have improved understanding of South Africa’s labour market substantially in the last two decades. This dissertation adds to this evidence by considering three separate labour market questions, with particular attention to data quality and the application of credible methodology.

Firstly, wage flexibility is investigated. Whereas selected previous microeconometric evidence suggests that wage setters in South Africa are highly responsive to external local labour market circumstances, it is not corroborated by macroeconomic and other microeconometric studies. This question is interrogated again, with particular attention to methodological issues in wage curve estimation. The latter is a robust negative relationship between individual wages and local unemployment rates, found in most countries, except where bargaining is highly centralized. Adding time variation to the data allows controls for spatial heterogeneity to be introduced, leading to the conclusion that wages are really inflexible in the short-run. Rather, the trade-off between wages and local unemployment that previous work has found represents a long-run spatial equilibrium. This finding is robust to instrumentation for reverse causality and the measurement error that is associated with choosing incorrect labour market demarcations.

Secondly, the reliability of retrospective data related to childhood is investigated, with the view of estimating the long-run influence that early life circumstances have on adult outcomes. Two indicators, parental education and subjective rankings of childhood socioeconomic status, are evaluated. The first set of indicators has poor response rates, as many South African children live without their parents. Where respondents do volunteer this information, they answer consistently across waves. Subjective rankings have higher response rates, as they require respondents to provide information about their own past, and not about those of their parents. However, individuals’ assessments are inconsistent over time, despite being asked about the same point in the life cycle. They tend to change their view of the past in line with adjustments to perceptions of their position in the village income distribution and subjective well-being, providing clear evidence of anchoring. Instrumental variables analysis has been used in previous studies to account for measurement error in subjective data. However, if anchoring affects all assessments of the past and potential outcome variables (such as employment), microeconometric techniques will yield biased estimates of the effects of childhood on long-run outcomes.

Finally, age-period-cohort models for South African labour force participation are estimated. This chapter is the first contribution to relax the assumption that cohort differences must remain permanent over the life cycle. Monte-Carlo simulation studies show that highly interactive specifications can partially recover the true underlying process. Using a variety of techniques (imposing behavioural restrictions and atheoretical approaches), this study shows that cohort effects in labour force participation can be temporary in South Africa, though more data is required to verify this conclusively. Regardless of technique, a distinct surge in labour force participation is noted for the group born after 1975. Pertinently, the combination of testable assumptions and highly flexible estimation can yield credible age-period-cohort profiles, despite the many disputes noted in the literature. Previous evidence of a surge in participation for the post-1975 cohort can now be shown to be temporary rather than a part of a long-run generational increase.