"The improvement can be attributed in part to the increase in the number of people receiving social payments, such as old-age pensions and the child support grant," said researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations, Georgina Alexander.
In 2001, some 11% of South Africans fell into the category with the lowest living standards. This had improved to 1% in 2011.
"In the same period, the proportion of people with the highest living standards increased from 5% to 6%," Alexander said.
The trends are captured via the Living Standards Measures (LSMs), a marketing tool designed by the South African Advertising Research Foundation.
LSM 1 is the poorest category and LSM 10 the highest.
In 2001, the greatest proportion of adults – 14% – were classified as being in LSM 3.
This proportion dropped to 6% in 2011.
Last year, the greatest proportion of adults was grouped in LSM 6 – at 22%.
"Over the last decade there has been a general migration from the bottom three (1-3) to the middle four (4-7) LSMs, showing a general increase in living standards," Alexander said.
Government social grants had helped.
The number of recipients of the child grant increased by 1 200% between 2001 and 2010/11.
In 2001, around 8% of South Africans were beneficiaries of grants. This increased to 29% in 2010/11 and accounted for 10% of government expenditure.
According to the institute, LSMs cut across race, sex, age and other variables to categorise people according to their living standards. People are grouped according to objective criteria, such as whether they are urbanised, own motor vehicles or major appliances, or have running water or a flush toilet in or outside the house. Income is not used to determine a person's LSM. – Sapa