The socio-economic dimensions of racial inequality in South Africa: A social space perspective

Type Working Paper - ACEIR Working Paper Series
Title The socio-economic dimensions of racial inequality in South Africa: A social space perspective
Volume 10
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2023
Page numbers 1-31
It is well evidenced that South Africa is characterised by extreme economic inequality. To complement the extensive body of work on the dynamics of vulnerability and poverty alleviation, this study aims to ‘turn the telescope’ (Savage 2021), using a sociological lens, onto the structuring of privilege in South Africa. The analysis we present is a first attempt to systematically map how stocks of economic, cultural, and social capital intersect to generate systematic and structural inequalities in the country, and to consider how far these are associated with fundamental racial divides. To achieve this, we utilise rich, nationally representative data from the National Income Dynamics Study and employ Geometric Data Analysis and Multiple Correspondence Analysis to construct a model of South African ‘social space’. Our findings reveal distinct features of South African social space. Firstly, the inheritor class reveals the intensely strong interplay between inequalities of economic and cultural capital. Secondly, there is some evidence that this homogeneity is associated with an enduring racialized divide. Thirdly, the size of the upwardly mobile class indicates that forms of middle-class privilege percolate well beyond a core of the 8% of the population that is white, suggesting fluidity and change in the South African social space. Finally, social capital is strongly delineated by age, with older respondents displaying on average higher levels of trust. Our cluster analysis reveals that trust levels increase with economic and cultural capital levels within
younger age groups and could therefore entrench social and racial divisions.

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