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 civic engagement. It is below average in the dimensions of income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, work-life balance, health status, education and skills, social connections, environmental quality, subjective well-being and personal security. These rankings are based on available selected data.

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 lower than the OECD average of USD 33 604 a year.

A key factor behind the high income inequality is the low employment rate, especially of black South Africans. Nearly 44% of people aged 15 to 64 in South Africa have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 68%. Some 49% of men are in paid work, compared with 38% of women. In South Africa,  18% of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 11%. 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, 73% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, lower than the OECD average of 78%. This is slightly truer of women than men, as 73% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 74 % of women. In terms of the quality of the educational system, the average student scored lower in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), than the OECD average of 486 points. On average in South Africa, girls and boys performed similarly, below the average OECD gap of 2 points.

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in South Africa is 58 years, 22 years lower than the OECD average of 80 years, and the lowest in the OECD. Life expectancy for women is 60 years, compared with 56 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 21.6 micrograms per cubic meter, higher than the OECD average of 13.9 micrograms per cubic meter. South Africa also performs below the OECD average in terms of water quality, as 67% 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 88% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, broadly in line with the OECD average of 89%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was about 74% during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 68%.

In general, South Africans are less satisfied with their lives than the OECD average. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, South Africans gave it a 4.7 grade on average, much lower than the OECD average of 6.5.

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 2017

Over the last two decades, South Africa has accomplished enormous social progress by bringing to millions of citizens access to key public services. Nevertheless, growth has trended down markedly recently due to constraints on the supply side.

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South Africa in Detail