Wellbeing in South Africa: regional economic disparities, conspicuous consumption, and the provision of infrastructure.

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This thesis investigates the correlates of subjective well-being in South Africa, with a focus on the role of location, and specifically the impact of regional differences, conspicuous consumption, and access to public infrastructure in South Africa (SA). This thesis contributes to the body of welfare economics in SA by addressing three sets of aspects of well-being. The first of these (Chapter 3) is about individual differences in subjective well-being (SWB) across regions. This chapter makes use of five waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) and the Quantac EasyData, corresponding to the NIDS waves. Using a combination of pooled ordered probit (POP), pooled ordinary least squares (POLS), and fixed-effects (FE) estimation, the overall finding from the first study shows that individual SWB differs across regions. Individuals located in urban district municipalities and economically thriving provinces report higher levels of individual SWB relative to individuals located in economically deprived regions. The second aspect (Chapter 4) examines the effect of conspicuous consumption by others on individual well-being. Using all five waves of the NIDS data, the findings suggest that, after controlling for comparator expenditure at the cluster and district level, conspicuous consumption by others at the district level decreases individual SWB after controlling for other important correlates of SWB. Also, it is worth mentioning that the findings differ depending on the proximity of the reference group. The findings suggest that individual SWB is negatively sensitive to conspicuous consumption by others that occurs in distant proximities, as opposed to close proximities. The third part (Chapter 5) examines the effect of access to public infrastructure on individual SWB. Access to infrastructure is measured by the distance individuals travel to the nearest educational, healthcare, and police service facility. Using data from the Living Conditions Survey (LCS) 2014/2015, the overall findings show that the effect of access on individual SWB differs across the various kinds of infrastructure facilities. Furthermore, long distances travelled to access public infrastructure pose a significant barrier for vulnerable segments of the population. Therefore, the government’s policy framework and commitment should be invigorated towards improving structural and systemic factors that hamper effective access to infrastructure.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.