Working Paper

Social Cohesion and Inequality in South Africa

In this paper, we examine recent trends in social cohesion and inequality, and the relationship between the two in South Africa, using data from the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) surveys. Given the country’s history of long-term racial and socioeconomic segregation, we use the
extent of interracial interactions as our main approximation of social cohesion. We show that, although there is some improvement in the extent of interracial interactions over time, even today less than a third of South Africans often or always talk or socialize with someone from a different racial group. We use a multidimensional Living Standards Measure (LSM) to assess the level of well-being and the level of inequality. Our inequality analysis of this measure indicates that, since 2008, both vertical and horizontal (between races) inequality declined significantly. These trends can be attributed to progress made in the provision of basic services (i.e. water and electricity) and to ownership of household assets in South Africa. In contrast, when we focus on subjective or perceived inequality, it is clear that a large proportion of South Africans (about 70%) perceive the extent of
inequality (the gap between the poor and the rich) as not having changed much or as even having worsened over time. The key finding of our quantitative work is a significant relationship between
individuals’ perception of inequality and their level of interracial interactions.