Census 2011: A trend in the right direction

In everything from average household income to education and jobs, black South Africans fare worse than their white counterparts – and African women bear the brunt of this bias. But buried in the numbers are signs that things are changing, albeit slowly.

Despite average household income having risen by 113.3% – well above inflation – during the past decade, white households retain the top spot with the highest average annual income of R365 134. This is more than three times the national average of R103 204 and more than six times the average annual income of African households, at R60613.

Coloured households earned an average of R112 172 in 2011, whereas the figure for Indian households was R251 541, according to Statistics South Africa's latest report.

The picture is even gloomier for women. Households headed by women earned on average R67330, taking home about two-thirds of the national average. Households headed by men earned R128 329, nearly 90% more than their feminine counterparts.

When the data were released on  Tuesday, statistician general Pali Lehohla said that African women in particular remained "trapped" in the lowest income brackets.

The highest unemployment rate was also among African women. Using the expanded definition of unemployment, which includes the figures for discouraged work seekers or those who have given up looking for work, the unemployment rate for African women was 52.9%. For African men it was 39.8%.

The unemployment rate among coloured women was 34.4% and among Indian women it was 23%.

In contrast, the expanded unemployment rate among white men was 8.1%, whereas it was 12.5% among white women.

But the news is not all bad and there is evidence that there has been change, albeit uneven.

Steadily improving
Despite low average incomes, African households have experienced the fastest growth in the money they take home every month when compared with other population groups. The average annual income for African households rose by 169% during the past decade. For white households, average annual income grew by 88%.

Similarly, households run by women have seen a 141.6% increase in their annual average income since 2001. Those of men have seen an increase of 101.6%.

A greater proportion of Africans own their own homes than any other population group, which is a sign of a growing asset base for the nation. About 43% of African households live in homes they own and have paid off, followed by 39.3% of coloured households, 34.4% of Indian households and 31.2% of white households. In addition, the majority of households now have a television, fridge and cellular telephone.

Although education levels, particularly of African women, leave much to be desired, they have been steadily improving. The percentage of African women aged 15 and older with no education, or none higher than primary school, declined from 41% in 1996 to 38.2% in 2001 and 23% today. Similar declines were experienced in both the Indian and coloured population groups.

In terms of basic services there has been an overall increase in the numbers of households with access to running water, electricity and refuse removal.

Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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