In South Africa with its high levels of racial inequality, inequality in income distribution is especially large and persistent. For an upper-middle income country (in terms of GDP per capita and economic structure), South African social indicators (e.g. life expectancy, infant mortality or quality of education) are closer to those of lower-middle income or even low income countries. This reflects the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities. A small group of highincome earners sharply increases average incomes, but has little impact on average social indicators, which are low because of this very same inequality. Even in 1995, before the full advent of AIDS, South African life expectancy at birth was only 63 – ten years less than that of Panama, a country of comparable income, and four years less than that of the Philippines, a country with one-third of South Africa‟s per capita income (World Bank 1997).
This paper provides an overview of the educational situation in South Africa a decade after the political transition, with the focus on its economic dimensions. This overview often draws on the author’s own previous work, with the empirical contribution con-fined to a production function analysis of educational outcomes.
An important question is whether changes since the transition have substantially ameliorated the role of race in education. As comparative inter-temporal data are scarce, this paper thus analyses recent educational outcomes to show that race, and the race-based former school systems, still remain the most pervasive determinants of educational outcomes.
This paper provides a broad overview of the economic dimensions of the educational situation in South Africa a decade after the political transition. An important question is whether changes since the transition have substantially ameliorated the role of race in education. Census and survey data shat that quantitative educational attainment differentials (years of education) have been substantially reduced, by qualitative differentials remain larger. Despite massive resource shifts to black schools, overall matriculation results did not improve in the post-apartheid period. Thus the school system contributes little to supporting the upward mobility of poor children in labor markets.
South African poverty and inequality are strongly rooted in the labor market. Despite the continuing relevance of race, labor market race discrimination has declined as cause of inequality compared to other factors also often correlated with race (e.g. education and location). Moreover, if cognizance is taken of large differentials in educational quality, the residual earnings differentials ascribable to labor market race discrimination may well be small. This emphasizes the need to concentrate on the one factor amenable to policy, educationThe paper uses census and survey data to show that quantitative educational attainment differentials in South Africa (years of education) have been substantially reduced.