Racial composition and social class in South Africa

Source: Social stratification, life chances and vulnerability to poverty in South Africa

The above graph is taken from a Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) study titled, Social stratification, life chances and vulnerability to poverty in South Africa, conducted by Simone Schotte, Rocco Zizzamia and Murray Leibbrandt.

The study proposes “a schema of social stratification with particular relevance for the emerging and developing country context marked by high economic insecurity.”

This study found that 50% of South Africans were chronically poor in 2014, 11% belonged to the transient poor, whilst 15% could be described as the vulnerable middle class, which means that they’re exposed to shocks that can cause them to fall into poverty quite easily, such as the loss of a bread winner.

The chronically poor and vulnerable poor are predominantly African and to a lesser extent, coloured. Between 2008 and 2014, the share of Africans who belonged to the chronic poor, transient poor and vulnerable middle class roughly remained the same. Whilst the number of Africans belonging to the middle class and elite increased marginally.

In 2014, a very small fraction of Indians still belonged to the chronically poor group, whilst a visible fraction of Indians belonged to the transient poor group.

The position of coloured South Africans remained more or less unchanged from 2008 to 2014 across all the social classes.

From 2008 to 2014, whites who had belonged to the transient poor group moved into the middle class. By 2014, there were no whites in the transient or chronic poor groups.

The study concludes, “that only about 20 per cent of the South African population can be considered as stably middle class. Africans remain underrepresented in the middle class, and race is still one of the strongest predictors of poverty in South Africa. Members of larger, female headed, or rural households face a higher risk of poverty, and are less likely to enter the ranks of the middle class. Having access to stable labour market income, by contrast, is a key determinant for households to achieve economic stability in South Africa.”

Learn more

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