South Africa

Did you know?

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 poorly in many dimensions of well-being relative to other countries in the Better Life Index. It underperforms average in income, jobs, education, health, environmental quality, social connections, civic engagement, safety and life satisfaction. These assessments 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 USD 9 338 a year, considerably less than the OECD average of USD 30 490 a year.

In terms of employment, about 39% of people aged 15 to 64 in South Africa have a paid job, considerably below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 44% of men are in paid work, compared with 33% of women. In South Africa, 15% of employees work very long hours in paid work, well above the OECD average of 10%, with 20% of men working very long hours in paid work compared with 10% of women.

Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In South Africa, 48% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, much lower than the OECD average of 79%. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored lower than the OECD average of 488 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in South Africa is around 64 years, seven years lower than the OECD average of 81 years. Life expectancy for women is 68 years, compared with 61 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 28.5 micrograms per cubic meter, well above the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter. In South Africa, 72% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, lower than the OECD average of 84%.

Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and moderate levels of civic participation in South Africa, where 89% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less than the OECD average of 91%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was 66% during recent elections, lower than the OECD average of 69%.

When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, South Africans gave it a 4.9 grade on average, much lower than the OECD average of 6.7.


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


OECD in Action

OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa

OECD's periodic reviews of South Africa's economy. Each review examines recent economic developments, policy and prospects, and presents a series of recommendations.

Read this report

Find Out More

South Africa in Detail