Inequality Trends in South Africa: A multidimensional diagnostic of inequality

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                 14 November 2019

Inequality Trends in South Africa: A multidimensional diagnostic of inequality

Statistics South Africa in partnership with the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) and the Agence Francaise de Développement (AFD) have released the first Inequality Trends Report for South Africa. This partnership was forged through our collective involvement in the African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR) based at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  ACEIR has played a guiding role in the development of this report and, through a European Union-funded research facility on inequalities, they hope to support and expand inequality research in other African countries.


The multidimensional nature of inequality makes it hard to aggregate the story of inequality into a single headline indicator. Instead, it is important to examine inequality through various measures and tools. This report shows that some aspects of inequality have declined, while others have increased in the recent past. Despite the high level of inequality in the country, most economic measures suggest a decrease in within-group inequality between 2006 and 2015. All provinces, except for Limpopo and Eastern Cape, reported a decrease in their respective Gini coefficients. Individuals living in both male- and female-headed households recorded a decrease in their economic inequality across most measures between 2006 and 2015. Although, individuals living in male-headed households had a bigger impact on influencing overall inequality as compared to those living in female-headed households. Meanwhile, economic inequality decreased for Indians/Asians and whites, it remained fairly constant for coloureds, but increased for black Africans.

Throughout the years, income from the labour market has been the leading source of household income in South Africa, accounting for over 70% of total income. The report found that labour market income is the main driver of income inequality in South Africa, contributing 74,2% towards overall income inequality in the country in 2015. Nevertheless, social grants and remittances have played a crucial role in reducing the income inequality gap between the bottom and top deciles.

The distribution of earnings depicts the heavily racialized inequality present in the South African labour market between 2011 and 2015. In addition to having worse employment outcomes, black Africans also earn the lowest wages when they are employed. Whites, in contrast, earned substantially higher wages than all other population groups. Their monthly average real earnings were more than three times higher than those of black Africans. Females were less likely to be employed and earned approximately 30% less on average as compared to males.

Looking at the provincial asset profiles, Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal were the most unequal provinces, while Limpopo was the least unequal between 2009 and 2015. Overall, asset inequality has decreased over time for all provinces, except for Northern Cape and Free State

Furthermore, findings show that inequality in the social sphere has declined in certain aspects. Nationally, school attendance increased between 2002 and 2017, with Limpopo having the highest proportion of learners aged 6 to 18 years attending school. All provinces, except Western Cape and Gauteng, had above 90% of learners who benefited from government’s nutrition programmes.  Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in the number of learners attending public schools that benefited from the ‘no-fee’ policy, with Limpopo and Eastern Cape being the major beneficiaries. This progress in education is in sharp contrast to healthcare where substantial differences remain, by population group and province, in the use of public versus private health care facilities and in having access to medical aid.  Black Africans have significantly lower medical aid coverage compared to other population groups.

For technical enquires Contact:

Werner Ruch

Tel: (012) 406 3317

Cell: 082 906 7957



For media inquiries contact:

Felicia Sithole

Tel: (012) 337 2401

Cell: 076 430 0693



Issued by Statistics South Africa with Agence Francaise de Développement, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, and African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research