Educational Inheritance and the Distribution of Occupations: Evidence from South Africa


  • Note: Murray Leibbrandt acknowledges the Research Chairs Initiative of the South African Department of Science and Technology and South African National Research Foundation for funding his work as the Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality. We especially thank Stephan Klasen, Patrizio Piraino, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments as well as participants of the IARIW Conference on “Measuring National Income, Wealth, Poverty, and Inequality in African Countries” held in Cape Town, September 28 to October 1, 2011.

Correspondence to: Malcolm Keswell, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, South Africa (


We analyze the role of educational opportunity in shaping inequality in the distribution of occupations in the long run. We use the timing of political events in the history of the struggle to end Apartheid to devise an identification strategy that permits a causal interpretation of the role of educational opportunity. We find evidence that educational opportunity has a strong conditioning effect on the distribution of occupations in steady state. In particular, African female children who inherit the same level of educational opportunity as their parents are 6 percentage points more likely to be in the bottom of the occupation distribution than if they were exposed to better educational opportunities. An alternative identification strategy based on matching on the probability of educational persistence suggests that this figure is approximately 10 percent for younger cohorts of African female children.