Occupational mobility during South Africa's industrial take-off

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the absence of historical income or education data, the change in occupations over time can be used as a measure of mobility. This paper investigates intergenerational occupational mobility using a novel genealogical dataset for settler South Africa, spanning its transition from an agricultural to an early industrialised society (1800-1909). We identify fathers and sons for whom we have complete information on occupational attainment. We follow a two-generation discrete approach to measure changes in both absolute and relative mobility over time. Consistent with qualitative evidence of a shift away from agriculture as the economy’s dominant sector, we see the farming class shrinking and the skilled and professional classes growing. Controlling for changes in the structure of the labour market over time, we find increasing mobility, becoming significant after the discovery of minerals in 1868. We find this mobility particularly for semiskilled workers but virtually no improved mobility for sons of farmers. We also test hypotheses related to the mobility prospects for first-born sons and sons of immigrants.


External organisations
  • Stellenbosch University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • intergenerational mobility, occupational mobility, resource curse, industrialisation, colonialism, J60, J61, J62, N30, N37
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalSouth African Journal of Economics
StateE-pub ahead of print - 2017
Publication categoryResearch