The rise in female labour force participation in South Africa : an analysis of household survey data , 1995-2001.

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In the 1990s nationally representative and detailed household survey data became available for the first time in South Africa, opening up opportunities to examine some of the key movements in the labour market especially. This thesis investigates one of these: the continued and dramatic rise in female labour force participation that has occurred in post-apartheid South Africa over the period 1995 to 2001. The rise in women's participation, also referred to as the 'feminisation' of the labour market, is a phenomenon that has been observed and analysed in many countries around the world, and yet has remained largely undocumented in South Africa. The 'feminisation' that has been recorded in the international literature generally refers to the rise in women's share of the labour force coupled with a rise in women's share of employment. What is striking in the South African case, however, is that over the period under review here regular employment opportunities in the formal sector of the economy have been indisputably limited, and yet female labour force participation has continued to increase. The increase in participation has translated mainly into a rise in unemployment and in generally low-paying forms of self-employment in the informal sector. This raises the question why so many more women chose to enter the labour market over this period in spite of their dismal prospects, a question that is explored as far as possible in this study given the constraints imposed by the data available. This thesis is presented in three main parts. The first part consists of a review of the economic theory of female labour supply and a review of the international literature on the trends, causes and consequences associated with the rise in female labour force participation over time. The second and largest part of the thesis consists of an empirical analysis of the factors driving the rise in female labour force participation in South Africa. The broad trends in the labour force between 1995 and 2001 are documented, some of the supply-side correlates of labour force participation are explored descriptively, and then the determinants of the rise in female labour force participation in South Africa over this period are tested more thoroughly in a multivariate regression and decomposition analysis. The final part of the study turns to the question of what the rise in female labour force participation has 'bought' women in terms of access to employment and earnings for those women who did have work in the period under review.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 2003.


Theses--Economics., Women employees--South Africa., Women--Employment--South Africa., Labour--South Africa.