Convergence of a kind: Educational attainment and intergenerational social mobility in South Africa

Louw M. ; van der Berg S. ; Yu D. (2007)


To a large degree, the notoriously high levels of income inequality in South Africa have their roots in differential access to wage-earning opportunities in the labour market, which in turn are influenced by family background. This paper therefore investigates the role that parents' education plays in children's human capital accumulation. The study analyses patterns of educational attainment in South Africa during the period 1970-2001, asking whether intergenerational social mobility has improved. It tackles the issue in two ways, combining extensive descriptive analysis of progress in educational attainment with a more formal evaluation of intergenerational social mobility using indices constructed by Dahan and Gaviria, and Behrman et al. Both types of analysis indicate that intergenerational social mobility within race groups improved over the period, with the indices suggesting that South African children are currently better able to take advantage of educational opportunities than the bulk of their peers in comparable countries, at least up to lower secondary school level. However, the greater distance to go in achieving educational convergence between race groups at higher education levels reflect a major deficit: Educational quality differentials are still large and reflected in big differences in matriculation rates and tertiary qualifications by race. © 2007 The Authors; Journal compilation © 2007 Economic Society of South Africa.

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