Do South African women earn 27% less than men?

Comments 2

A car distributor tweeted that women in South Africa take home more than a quarter less than their male counterparts. The statistic is mostly correct.

“Women earn 27% less than men,” the South African distributor of Korean car maker Hyundai recently tweeted.

Based on this disparity, Hyundai South Africa offered 100 South African women a R27,000 discount (about USD$2,000) on a new car.

A number of people questioned the statistic. “I wonder who’s this feminist who came up with this false info,” tweeted one person.

“This is a myth. We are paid equal for the same job, and it is illegal if this discrimination occurs,” offered another.

Is this statistic based on sound research? We set out to investigate.

Statistic not global but ‘very much South African’

The statistic was a “global average” from the 2017 Pulse of the People report run by market research firm Ipsos, the car distributor clarified in a subsequent tweet.

Mari Harris, a director and political analyst at Ipsos, confirmed that the statistic was from their report. Pulse of the People contains a list of questions that the organisation runs every six months as part of a study called Ipsos Khayabus.

The 2017 analysis was conducted between 23 April and 22 May, but the report is not publicly available.

However, the figure was not in fact a global estimate as Hyundai South Africa said, but rather “very much South African”, Harris told Africa Check.   

‘Women earn about 73% of what men earn’

Ipsos South Africa interviewed 3,598 employed people nationally across various occupations and in both urban and rural areas.

“We conduct face-to-face in-home interviews in the homes and home languages of randomly chosen South Africans,” Harris told Africa Check.

People who did not share information about their incomes were excluded the analysis. Some 37.6% of respondents declined to answer questions about their income – possibly because they feared the tax authorities, Harris said.

The results were then weighted and projected to a total of 38.3 million South Africans aged 15 years and older.

Their analysis found that the average personal income for men was R9,222.16 per month, while that for women was R6,688.80 per month.

“Women earn about 73% of what men earn (on average),” Harris explained. From this, Ipsos concluded that women earn 27% less than men.

Women earn 23% less – Stats SA

How does this compare to other studies of earning differences between men and women?

The executive manager for labour statistics at Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), Peter Buwembo, told Africa Check that the latest figures on earnings could be found in the bureau’s Labour Market Dynamics Survey. This survey uses data from Quarterly Labour Force Surveys, during which 30,000 households across the country are interviewed.

Stats SA estimated that men earned a median income of R3,500 per month while women earned R2,700 per month in 2015. The “median income” is the value where half of people’s income falls above it and the other half falls below.

Based on this data, women earned 23% less than men.

‘Average incomes tend to be considerably higher’

While the disparity in earnings provided by Stats SA and Ipsos data (23% versus 27%) are relatively similar, the differences in earnings reported for men and women differ significantly.

This could be due to the difference between average and median incomes, Martin Wittenberg, a professor in the school of economics at the University of Cape Town, told Africa Check.

“Averages tend to be considerably higher than medians because high earners earn so much more than everyone else, meaning just a few individuals raise the average wage appreciably,” he said. (Note: The median wage gap between men and women further varies – it is wider for both low and high earners and narrower at the middle.)  

2015 data from the National Income Dynamic Study also showed both a median and average income disparity, Wittenberg said, calculating 25% for the former. The study, conceived by the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation, tracks changes in the lives of individual South Africans over time.

Discrimination plays a role

There are a number of different factors which lead to men and women in South Africa earning at different levels, experts told Africa Check.

“Part of the difference in earnings between men and women arises because men and women have different productive characteristics,” Colette Muller, a senior lecturer at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s school of accounting, economics and finance explained.  

“[Men and women] typically work in different occupations and different industries associated with different rates of pay and benefits.”

As an example, Muller pointed to South Africa women dominating the informal sector, part-time employment and domestic work.

“This type of work is typically associated with low pay.”

“Discrimination against women, where they are underpaid despite being equally qualified to men” also contributes to income disparity, associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s school of economics and business sciences, Uma Kollamparambil, told Africa Check.

But Muller noted that teasing out “how much of the gender pay gap in South Africa is as a result of discrimination as opposed to other factors is quite difficult to do”.

Conclusion: Research backs car maker’s gender pay gap claim

A South African car dealership recently claimed that women earn 27% less than men.

The figure was based on 2017 data from a South African market research firm. The study found that men earned an average income of R9,222.16 per month compared to the R6,88.80 earned by women.

Data from South Africa’s statistics bureau also found a gender pay gap of 23% in 2015, but this was for median income.

While the actual size of the gap differs based on individual study characteristics, research consistently shows a notable difference in what women and men take home.  

Given this, we rate Hyundai’s claim mostly correct.

Edited by Kate Wilkinson & Lee Mwiti


Additional reading:

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Comment on this report

Comments 2
  1. By Max

    On the issue of a gender pay-gap, would it not be more nuanced to analyse this kind of data along more than just the one variable, i.e. gender? What happens when other factors are controlled for, such as age, individual preferences (choosing to work in industries that are socially/people oriented vs materially oriented), differences in average personality traits such as agreeableness (which affect the chances of requesting pay raises etc). The gender wage gap shouldn’t be summarised as only one number as it can mislead us in to diagnosing problems and prescribing cures…

    Reply Report comment
  2. By AJ

    I just don’t understand it. The discussions consistently imply that if X and Y apply for the exact same job with the same working conditions then the salary of X will be lower than Y if X is female. This does not tie up at all with what I have observed in real life. A female friend of mine started working before me, then left the company, worked somewhere else for a year or so and then decided to return back to work for the original company. I happened to join that same company at the time that she returned, but in offices in two different provinces (Western vs Eastern Cape). We did very similar jobs, at the same grading and happened to be close enough friends that we could share our salaries with one another. Her new salary upon her return was exactly the same as mine, down to the last cent, so I am led to believe that there is no gender pay gap (in my company at least). If anything, the opportunities and promotions seem to favour women rather than discriminate against them. I strongly support equality (equal opportunities for all, discrimination based only on merit, equal pay for equal work) and I would be astounded to hear that there might be a situation where two people do exactly the same job at exactly the same grade, but their salaries differ due to irrelevant factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion or anything else. If this is the case in any environment then that employer needs to account for this, as it is frankly disgraceful.

    Reply Report comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.