Loughborough study finds inequality still rife in South Africa post-Apartheid

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Teenage inequality in South Africa is still rife nearly 20 years after the end of Apartheid, a new study by Loughborough University has found.

The research, which focussed on South African adolescents living in Johannesburg and Soweto, found major differences in the living conditions of black African, white, mixed ancestry and Indian/Asian teenagers.  This is despite reforms that have been implemented to reduce poverty and inequalities post-Apartheid.

The study was carried out by researchers from Loughborough University’s Centre for Global Health and Human Development, based in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, and the Medical Research Council (MRC)/University of Witwatersrand Developmental Pathway for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), based in Johannesburg.

The Birth to Twenty Plus cohort (Bt20+) was initiated in 1990 by Loughborough’s Professor Noel Cameron and academics from the University of Witwatersrand in response to the rapid urbanisation occurring in South Africa as Apartheid came to an end, and to examine the effect this was having on maternal and child health.

Bt20+ continues to follow the lives of all babies born in Soweto and Johannesburg in 1990 from April 23 to June 6.

The study analysed household, school and neighbourhood socio-economic data from 2000 participants. Data has been collected from birth so it is possible to look at how household wealth has changed throughout childhood and adolescence in the Bt20+ cohort.

Findings show the three strongest predictors of staying poor throughout childhood and adolescence were: starting with less wealth; having a mother with low levels of education; and being a black African adolescent compared to being white.

Black African and mixed ancestry adolescents also reported living in more deprived neighbourhoods and studying in less favourable school environments compared to white participants. Among black Africans those living in Soweto, compared to metropolitan Johannesburg, reported more deprived economic and school environments.

Dr Paula Griffiths from Loughborough’s Centre for Global Health and Human Development and the MRC/University of Witwatersrand DPHRU said:

“We wanted to get adolescents’ perceptions of their environments as they are key stakeholders in the community and as such, they contribute to creating a favourable environment that ensures adequate development for themselves and for future generations.

“This is the first study to be able to assess inequality throughout the whole childhood period in South Africa and to incorporate adolescent perceptions of their environments in adolescence”

Loughborough PhD student Rebecca Pradeilles, who led the University’s involvement in the project, added:

“Despite policies targeted at reducing inequalities, this study shows that reducing household and neighbourhood poverty, inequality and violence remains a challenge and a priority in the area of Johannesburg and Soweto. Initiatives targeted at reducing the economic differences between the different population groups are warranted.

“Taken together the findings from this research suggest that targeting high quality education through equal quality schools to the poorest neighbourhoods has excellent potential to be a long term successful strategy for reducing inequality for this and future generations of South Africans. Government incorporating the views of these adolescents when implementing policy is essential.”

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