Professionalisation or polarisation? Economic restructuring and changes in Cape Town’s labour market

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Master's thesis
Title Professionalisation or polarisation? Economic restructuring and changes in Cape Town’s labour market
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the changes that have occurred in the economy of Cape Town, South Africa over the last half of the 20th century and what the possible effects of this change have been on social inequality. Literature on economic restructuring in cities all over the world provided the framework of ideas within which this analysis was conducted. These works focused on how in many cities, progressive deindustrialisation has led to the loss of middle-income jobs, while growth in the service sector has resulted in greater numbers of high- and low-skill and income jobs. Others argued that most cities economies’ were becoming increasingly organised around professional, managerial and technical skills only, and that increased polarisation occurred solely in those cities that were subject to large-scale immigration. The overriding question that emerged from this body of work then was whether the occupational distribution of employment in cities was becoming increasingly polarised or professionalised. Careful examination of population census data on sectoral and occupational changes in the economy of Cape Town showed that the city’s working population was becoming increasingly professionalised, and not more polarised. Survey data were also used to dispute the contention that a large unskilled migrant population was a sufficient condition for social polarisation.

Theories about the impacts of deindustrialisation and the decline in blue-collar work on unskilled ethnic urban minority groups were also discussed. Again, using population census data, it was shown that the Coloured population had dominated manufacturing employment. Therefore, it was concluded that the decline in manufacturing employment would most likely have the greatest negative impact on Coloured employment levels. This would most likely affect Coloured men most though, as Coloured women were gaining more employment in all the other types of occupations that were growing while blue-collar employment, on which men seemed to rely that much more, was declining.

The argument was also made that service sector growth, while leading to increased feminisation of the workforce, also causes women to be segregated into low-skill, low-pay service jobs. However, the data for Cape Town concurred with other author’s data that showed that the occupational distributions of both women and men are becoming increasingly professionalised.

Some authors argued that the decline in manufacturing jobs and growth in low-skill service sector work favours unskilled women over unskilled men, as the manufacturing sector tended to hire more men and the service sector tends to employ more women. This was shown to be true in the case of Cape Town, with African women dominating unskilled labour by 2001.

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