Inequality in South Africa: The distribution of income, expenditure and earnings

Fiona Tregenna, Mfanafuthi Tsela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


This article empirically analyses the state of inequality in South Africa. International comparisons show South Africa to be among the most unequal countries in the world. The levels of income inequality and earnings inequality are analysed with a range of measures and methods. The results quantify the extremely high level of inequality in South Africa. Earnings inequality appears to be falling in recent years, with relative losses in the upper-middle parts of the earnings distribution. Decomposing income inequality by factor source reveals the importance of earnings in accounting for overall income inequality. The article concludes by observing that, internationally, significant sustained decreases in inequality rarely come about without policies aimed at achieving that, and suggests that strong policy interventions would be needed to reduce inequality in South Africa to levels that are in the range typically found internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-61
Number of pages27
JournalDevelopment Southern Africa
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • South Africa
  • earnings distribution
  • income distribution
  • inequality
  • inequality decomposition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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