Changes in education, employment and earnings in South Africa: A cohort analysis

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University of Cape Town


Rapid increases in educational attainment and the massification of secondary education in South Africa resulted in substantial differences in the supply and quality of educated workers across generations. This paper describes changes in the distribution of education across birth cohorts and how these relate to changes in the probability of employment, the distribution of earnings and the earnings premiums to complete secondary and tertiary education. Tracking cohorts over time allows us to disentangle generational and life-cycle components of these changes. Younger cohorts are shown to have increasingly faced worse labour market conditions than their predecessors, although this may be changing for cohorts born after 1980. Furthermore, the relative reward to complete secondary and tertiary education has remained positive, and increased for tertiary educated cohorts born since the 1960s. Increases in earnings inequality among those with complete secondary education suggests increased variance in education quality during the period when completed secondary education expanded rapidly.

Ardington, Branson, Lam and Leibbrandt acknowledge funding for this paper from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Supporting Inclusive Growth Programme. Ardington, Branson and Leibbrandt acknowledge support for this work from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge. Leibbrandt acknowledges the Research Chairs Initiative of the NRF and DST for funding his work.