But white people continue to earn the most and own the most assets, according to research by the South African Institute of Race Relations.
A measure of the increase in income can be seen in the growth of people who fall into the living standards measure (LSM) 5 to 8, and the reduction in numbers in the lower LSM 1 to 4 in the past three years.
When it comes to average household income per province, the Western Cape leads, followed by Gauteng. But perhaps more significantly, the Northern Cape, Limpopo and the Free State saw the highest percentage increase in income from 1996 to 2011.
About 37% of the population is living below the poverty line and, although this has been reduced substantially since 1996, 44.6% of these are black, 26.7% coloured, 10.9% Indian and 0.6% white.