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South Africa's Black Middle-Class

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  • 114 Pages
  • January 2023
  • Region: South Africa
  • Liberty Institute, University of Cape Town
  • ID: 5780822
This report reflects on the significant and continued rise of South Africa’s black middle-class. Notably it tracks the nuanced changes over the last 20 years and trends likely to influence and entrench the black middle-class as the foremost consumer market into South Africa's future. According to the report, the black middle-class constitutes 3.4 million people, or about 7% of South Africa’s black African population - with spending power of R400 billion per year. For over a year, the study’s researchers employed an integrated approach in mining data from multiple national databases, including qualitative and quantitative studies, and additionally conducted multiple interviews with industry experts.

South Africa has high inequality levels, so it is difficult to contemplate what barriers define the Black Middle Class. However, according to the new report, the Black Middle Class constitutes 3.4 million people, making up 7% of South Africa’s Black African population - with a spending power of R400 billion per year. The study was conducted over a year with a survey of over 1900 middle class households along with over 300 interviews. In addition, the research was infused by engagement with marketing experts.

The report defines this consumer segment as households with an income of R22 000 per month and above, and further distinguishes this segment between the middle, and upper Black Middle Class. How it is further differentiated from the Lower Middle Class is the lack of government support required and the fact that despite low economic growth, the number of high earning taxpayers has grown from 1,02 million in 2017 to 1,28 million in 2019. This conclusive definition is one of many held by economists and marketers in South Africa. Whilst the Black Middle Class had shown incredible resilience, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic - and whilst there were fears of slipping back. The impact on their finances during the COVID-19 pandemic was seemingly limited, 70% of the Black Middle Class citing that they were not worse off financially as a result of the pandemic. Even though there is evidence of resilience, finances were a major source of stress with many households reporting challenges with mental health.

Other areas of concern included their health, crime, their children's future and not being able to support dependants financially. The pandemic did create a bit of fear about slipping back into a place of uncertainty.

The report also found that there had been a “maturation” of the Black Middle Class over the last 15 years - with a new concerted focus on creating generational wealth. There is now access to better education and the benefit of a longer time spent in the middle class which has strengthened financial decision making and created a stronger long-term financial outlook. Looking into the future, the study's researchers said they see the continued growth of the Black Middle Class, with them not only growing in confidence but also owning their own narrative a lot more.

Table of Contents

1. Middle Class Definitions
2. Middle Class in Context
3. Current Status of the Black Middle Class
4. Impact of Covid
5. Upward Mobility
6. A Reflection on the First 30 years of Black Middle-Class
7. The Future