Focus Area 2: Income distribution in South Africa

ConvenorMurray Leibbrandt

The initial work programme of Focus Area 2 aims to build a community of researchers in the area of income distribution. It will be anchored around key participants in the national research community working on income distribution, followed by an inclusive process to identify other interested researchers, deepen the analysis of relevant data and evidence and expand the scope of investigation.

Research topics

  1. Long-term trends in inequality using data from different income/expenditure and non-monetary sources. Do they tell the same story and what are their inter-relationships? What do we know about the top-end of the distribution?
  2. The drivers and determinants of earnings inequality and income inequality, including unemployment and employment and the degree of inclusivity of economic growth (in particular the process of output and income generation).
  3. The broadening of the tax base and what this (and other tax dimensions) has done to income distribution.
  4. Education, training and human capital determinants of income distribution.
  5. The distributional impacts of spending, social transfers and related policies over the post-apartheid period.
  6. Social mobility and intergenerational mobility in contemporary South Africa, including evidence from panel data.
  7. The relationships between social mobility dynamics and the distribution of income at any point in time.
  8. International trends in income distribution and to what extent and why South Africa differs from these international trends.
  9. Demographic trends, household structure and the distribution of income.
  10. Long term household wealth and income security.


  1. Developing new, improved databases for research in this area, for example an improved, consolidated data base from household surveys and labour market surveys to track, measure and compare changes in income distribution over time. Another possibility is to create, from anonymous tax and other official data, an individual income data set that is available to researchers in a secure data facility.
  2. Developing a dynamic income distribution simulation and projection model for South Africa; suitable for projecting income distribution trends and estimating the impact of economic growth, employment, public policy and fiscal measures on income distribution.

Each of these will represent a resource that will in due course become available to the community of researchers.


Income distribution research gaps identified and call for proposals issued

An outcome of the workshop held in March 2013 (details below) was the formulation of a document which identifies the gaps in research for this focus area, and the subsequent call for proposals which address these gaps. The document is available here.  The call for proposals for this focus area is currently open, and interested researchers are encouraged to contact the focus area convener, Murray Leibbrandt with any questions in this regard.

Documentation and Papers

Income Distribution Workshop Programme

Comparing subjective and objective measures of poverty in South Africa  by Dori Posel & Mike Rogan

Data infrastructure projects for the income distribution project  by Martin Wittenberg

Income distribution focus areaby Vimal Ranchhod

Post-apartheid income and expenditure survey project  by Morne Oosthuizen

Progress on the micro-simulation  project by I. Woolard

Socio-economic policy research at Stellenbosch  by Servaas van der Berg

Tax admin records and individual income distribution  by E. Gavin

The middle-income strata: changes in incomes and standards of living in post-apartheid South Africa by J. Visagie