Credit constraints and the racial gap in post-secondary education in South Africa

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Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit


University of Cape Town


This paper analyzes the impact of high school household income and scholastic ability on post-secondary enrollment in South Africa. Using longitudinal data from the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS), we analyze the large racial gaps in the proportion of high school graduates who enroll in university and other forms of post-secondary education. Although there are enormous income differences between blacks and whites, and a strong relationship between income and post-secondary enrollment, we find that credit constraints are only a small contributor to the large racial gap in enrollment. Controlling for parental education and baseline scholastic ability (measured by a literacy and numeracy exam and performance on the grade 12 matriculation exam) reduces the estimated impact of household income on university enrollment, though there continues to be an effect at the top of the income distribution. We also find evidence of credit constraints on non-university forms of post-secondary enrollment. Counterfactual estimates indicate that if all South Africans had the incomes of the richest whites, African university enrollment would increase by 65%, even without changing parental education or high school academic achievement. The racial gap in university enrollment would narrow only slightly, however, as our results suggest that this gap in postsecondary enrollment results mainly from the large racial gap in high school academic achievement.

David Lam is Professor of Economics and Research Professor in the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan. Murray Leibbrandt is the National Research Foundation Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality Analysis and Director of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town. Cally Ardington is Associate Professor in SALDRU at the University of Cape Town. Nicola Branson is Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in SALDRU at the University of Cape Town.

Support for this research was provided by the South African National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Technology: Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge, the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grants R01HD39788 and R01HD045581), the Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (D43TW000657), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Canadian International Development Research Centre. The Cape Area Panel Study, which provides the key data for this paper, operates with the approval of Institutional Review Boards at the University of Cape Town and the University of Michigan.