Occupational mobility during South Africa's industrial take-off

Jeanne Cilliers, Johan Fourie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-22
JournalSouth African Journal of Economics
Issue number1
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History


  • intergenerational mobility
  • occupational mobility
  • resource curse
  • industrialisation
  • colonialism
  • J60
  • J61
  • J62
  • N30
  • N37


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