Educational attainment and intergenerational social mobility in South Africa
Servaas van der Berg
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 more a formal evaluation of intergenerational social mobility using indices constructed by Dahan and Gaviria (2001) and Behrman, Birdsall and Szekely (1998). 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. However, significant racial barriers remain in the quest to equalise educational opportunities across the board for South African children.
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