Vulnerability and the Middle Class in South Africa

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Show simple item record Zizzamia, Rocco Schotte, Simone Leibbrandt, Murray Ranchhod, Vimal 2016-10-19T13:11:53Z 2016-10-19T13:11:53Z 2016-08
dc.identifier.citation Zizzamia, R., Schotte, S., Leibbrandt, M., Ranchhod, V. (2016). Vulnerability and the middle class in South Africa. Cape Town: SALDRU, University of Cape Town. SALDRU Working Paper Number 188/ NIDS Discussion Paper 2016/15.
dc.identifier.isbn 978-1-928281-49-8
dc.description.abstract Apartheid imposed a rigid racialised system of unequal resource distribution on South African society, resulting in one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. Since apartheid ended in 1994, this aggregate income inequality has not improved. The persistence of extraordinarily high levels of poverty and inequality makes the definition and measurement of the ‘middle class’ particularly challenging. A review of previous work on the middle class, both in South Africa and in other developing countries, illustrates the difficulty of addressing this challenge. Recent research showing growth in the South African middle class often classifies as ‘middle class’ households which either fall below the basic‐needs poverty line or are vulnerable to poverty. This notion of economic insecurity conflicts with the sociological understanding of the middle class as an ‘empowered’ class. In this paper, we attempt to develop a conceptually and empirically rigorous approach to defining and measuring the middle class in South Africa. Arguing that the notion of ‘empowerment’ is central to the social and political meanings of ‘middle class’, we propose an empirical strategy that uses (in)vulnerability to poverty as the key criterion defining middle class status. Using the panel dimension of the nationally representative National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), we present a probability model that predicts the risk of staying in or falling into poverty over a six‐year time frame, depending on a broad array of initial household conditions and resources. We select the expenditure level associated with a maximum risk to poverty of 10 percent as the lower bound of the middle class and the expenditure level associated with effective invulnerability to poverty as the upper bound. This gives us a monthly per capita expenditure range of R3,104 to R10,387 (January 2015 prices). Using these thresholds, we find that the middle class in South Africa is smaller than previous research has suggested (with a population share of about 13.5 percent in 2014), and has grown sluggishly since 1993. Despite this, there has been considerable demographic transformation within the middle class, with Africans now outnumbering whites by a significant margin. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Rocco Zizzamia is a graduate student at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford, and a Researcher at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. Simone Schotte is a doctoral student and research fellow at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies and the Georg-August-University Göttingen. Murray Leibbrandt is a Professor in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town and the Director of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit. He holds the DSD/NRF National Research Chair of Poverty and Inequality Research and is a Principal Investigator on the National Income Dynamics Study. Vimal Ranchhod is the Chief Research Officer at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. Acknowledgements: This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD), located in the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), and is a product of the strategic partnership between South African government and the European Union. The content of this publication can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the DPME or the European Union. We would also like to thank Joshua Budlender, Arden Finn and participants at the GIGA Workshop on Inequality and Middle Class Development in Africa held in Cape Town in May 2016 for helpful discussions and comments. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.relation.ispartofseries Saldru Working Papers;188
dc.title Vulnerability and the Middle Class in South Africa en_US
dc.type Working Paper en_US

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