Estimating the Distribution of Household Wealth in South Africa

Wednesday, 11 March, 2020 - 11:30

WISER invites you to a lunchtime seminar:

"Estimating the Distribution of Household Wealth in South Africa" by Aroop Chatterjee, Léo Czajka, Amory Gethin

Presented by :  Aroop Chatterjee, Research Manager: Wealth Inequality – Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, and Amory Gethin, Research fellow at the World Inequality Lab.

Abstract:  This paper estimates the distribution of personal wealth in South Africa by combining tax microdata covering the universe of income tax returns, household surveys and macroeconomic balance sheets statistics. We document major inconsistencies between available data sources, in particular regarding the measurement of dividends, corporate assets and wealth held through trusts. Both household surveys and tax data remain insufficient to properly capture capital incomes. We systematically compare estimates of the wealth distribution obtained by direct measurement of net worth, rescaling of reported wealth to balance sheets totals, and capitalisation of income flows. Notwithstanding a significant degree of uncertainty, our findings reveal unparalleled levels of wealth concentration. The top 10 per cent own 87 per cent of aggregate wealth and the top 0.1 per cent close to one third. The top 0.01 per cent of the distribution (3,500 individuals) concentrate 15 per cent of household net worth, more than the bottom 90 per cent as a whole. Such high levels of inequality can be explained by the accumulation of all forms of assets at the top end, including housing, pension funds and other financial assets. Our series show no sign of decreasing wealth inequality since apartheid: if anything, we find that inequality has remained broadly stable and has even slightly increased within top wealth groups.


Aroop Chatterjee leads the research agenda on wealth inequality at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. Aroop is currently developing a strategy to bring disparate streams of related research across disciplines and countries under the lens of wealth inequality. He is also focussed on using new and existing data to develop a wealth distribution in South Africa. Previously he was the senior economist on labour issues at the National Treasury of South Africa, and was intimately involved in policy making and analysis on the labour market, including the Employment Tax Incentive, and the National Minimum Wage. 

Amory Gethin is a research fellow at the World Inequality Lab and at the Paris School of Economics. He contributes to managing and updating the World Inequality Database. His research focuses on the distribution of income and wealth in Europe and South Africa following the Distributional National Accounts framework. He also participates to a collective project on the historical interplay of economic inequality, political cleavages and electoral behaviours in developed and developing democracies such as India, Brazil, South Africa or Japan