South Africa

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indicator value unit
Population 52.4 mil.
Visitors per year 14.5 mil.
Renewable energy 11.0 %

How’s Life?

Since 1994 South Africa has made great progress in reducing absolute poverty by rolling out social grants for pensioners, the disabled and children. Access to education, housing, water, electricity and other services has been greatly broadened. As a result, well-being has increased substantially. Notwithstanding, South Africa performs well in only a few measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. South Africa ranks close to the average in social connections. It is below average in the dimensions of income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, health status, education and skills, environmental quality, and personal security.

Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In South Africa, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 8 712 a year, less than the OECD average of USD 29 016 a year.

A key factor behind the high income inequality is the low employment rate, especially of black South Africans. Nearly 43% of people aged 15 to 64 in South Africa have a paid job, lower than the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 49% of men are in paid work, compared with 37% of women. In South Africa, 18% of employees work very long hours, above the OECD average of 13%. This is truer for men than women, as 22% of men work very long hours compared with about 13% of women.

Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In South Africa, 65% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, lower than the OECD average of 76%. This is truer of men than women, as 66% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 64% of women.

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in South Africa is almost 57 years, 23 years lower than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 59 years, compared with 55 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 14.4 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly higher than the OECD average of 14.05 micrograms per cubic meter. South Africa also performs below the OECD average in terms of water quality, as 69% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, below the OECD average of 81%.

Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community, where 90% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, above than the OECD average of 88%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was about 73% during recent elections, above the OECD average of 68%.

For more information on estimates and years of reference, see FAQ section and BLI database.

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OECD in Action

OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2015

This 2015 OECD Economic Survey of South Africa examines recent economic developments, policies and prospects. Special chapters cover infrastructure and business regulation; tax policy and inclusive growth.

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South Africa in Detail