Poverty and inequality research

Professor Murray Leibbrandt, SARChI Chair in Poverty and Inequality Research Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town

The guiding theme for the work of this Research Chair is the interrogation of contemporary poverty and inequality dynamics in South Africa. Who is moving ahead and who is falling behind? Who is trapped in poverty and, most importantly, why is there this mobility or lack of mobility?

Quantitative research addressing these dynamic questions requires the generation and analysis of longitudinal or panel data sets in which a sample of South Africans is followed through time. Historically, the lack of panel data has stifled such analysis. The work of this Chair is designed to promote analysis of social change using panel data and to bolster the skills needed to analyse these data.

There are a number of regional panel data sets in South Africa but the biggest boost for such research came in 2006 when the Presidency launched the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS). This is a national longitudinal survey that is tracking over 28 000 South Africans who were first interviewed in 2008 and visited again in 2010/11 and will be visited again in 2012.

The research agenda of the Research Chair is directed at drawing out the major lessons that these panel surveys hold for the dynamics of poverty and inequality. The Chair has provided a unique opportunity to scale up this research programme by drawing in a sizeable corps of junior faculty and graduate students.


There are now a number of Associate Professors and Senior Lecturers who are working on aspects of this research agenda. Two post-doctoral fellows have worked with the Chair. Seven PhD students have graduated and two more black South African faculty members will submit their PhDs this year.

Each NIDS data set is made publicly available as quickly as possible. This data has been widely accessed by the policy and the research community with over 900 downloads of the 2008 data since it was released in July 2009.

Internationally, the analysis of this panel data is at the frontier of contemporary policy analysis and development economics more generally and in South Africa too, the fight against poverty requires nothing less than the best research.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial supplement

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