/ 30 October 2012

Census 2011: 50 years for blacks to catch up

Head statistician Pali Lehohla.
Head statistician Pali Lehohla.

The first flush of data from Census 2011 released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on Tuesday showed a number of differences between the races, especially white and black. But none stand so stark as the inequality in education and income.

South Africa's older white population (with a median age of 38, compared to 21 for black people) didn't grow wealthy faster than their black counterparts over the last 10 years. In fact, quite the contrary. Black household income growth between the 2001 census and the latest version averaged 169%, compared to an increase of just 88% for white households.

With their starting points in 2001 so far from one another, however, white people remained far, far richer.

White households, as units, earned six times more than their black counterparts – which have more individuals per household. In real money terms, that gave white families an average of R25 777 more to spend than black families every month.

If the difference in growth in income between the two race groups remains steady in coming years, the black population would catch up with the white population – eventually. It would take around 50 years for the groups to fall in the income bracket. By 2031, white households would still earn nearly three times as much as black households. By 2041, white families would be earning R2 for every R1 brought home by black families. Only in 2061 would the balance finally shift.

In education too, the gap between white and black remains enormous, even discounting the direct legacy of apartheid. There, however, the implied rate of change would at least close the gap within 20 years or so.

According to 2011 census numbers, only 35.2% of black people under the age of 20 could boast at least a matric certificate at the time of the count. For the white population, that proportion stood at 76%.

In real numbers, that means that while South Africa has seven black people for every white, it only has 3.2 black matriculants for every white matriculant.

Assuming the changes between 2001 and 2011 hold true, a census held in 2031 would be the first to show a higher percentage of black people than white people held matric.