How much you need to earn each month to be in the richest 1% in South Africa

The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) has published a tool that tells you how your monthly income compares to the rest of the country, and into which percentile your household falls.

SALDRU forms part of the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics, and conducts research into income mobility, racial composition of social class and poverty in South Africa.

According to the data, to be among the richest 1% of South Africans, you need a household income of R48,753 per month (after tax).

The richest 10% take home R7,313 a month.

The middle road income, separating the top half and bottom half of the country is R1,149 per month after tax – which is below the recently-adjusted upper-bound poverty line.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group’s latest affordability index, more than half (55.5%) of the population lives below the upper-bound poverty line, which is currently at R1,227 per person per month.

A quarter (25.2%) live below the food poverty line (R561 per person per month), the group said.

The median wage in South Africa is R3,300, and each wage supports 3.5 people (R930 per person – or R30 per person, per day). According to Stats SA, of the 7.5 million households in major metros, approximately 28% live on less than R2,500 a month.

To feed a single person a nutritionally complete basket of food for the month costs between R527 (for small children) to R670 (for very active men). A child support grant is only R420 a month (not enough to feed a child a nutritionally complete meal), and an old age grant is R1,780 – not enough to cover the costs for a family.

This is just for food, and does not include other necessities in life like rent, transport, electricity, education and clothing.

The researchers found that, on top of food, households prioritise the following:

  • Transport (to work, for scholar transport to school, to go to town to shop, and to access public health care services),
  • Electricity (to cook food, keep the lights on, keep warm and for security),
  • Education for children (so children can have a brighter future than their parents experienced),
  • Burial insurance (so that at least in death there can be a semblance of dignity)
  • The repayment of debt because households cannot get through the month on the level of income coming into the home and so servicing debt is critical to secure credit going forward.
  • After these expenses, there are a myriad of other essential expenses which households must cover, not least of all food and domestic and personal hygiene products.

Below is a range of goods and services expenses which households on low incomes may typically be expected to cover.

The cost data is not complete and excludes many potential expenses. Its purpose is however to provide a sense of what some important household expenses cost for households living on low incomes and further provides insight into what level of income households living on low incomes may require to live at a basic level of dignity.

“The tally of the cost of some typical monthly household expenses which households living on low incomes tell us they reasonably expect to cover is R7,624,13 in July 2019,” the researchers said.

Using SALDRU’s research, this means that only those earning in the top 9% (earning more than R7,700 a month after tax) would be able to live on this base line.


Read: This is how much money the poorest are living on each month in South Africa

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How much you need to earn each month to be in the richest 1% in South Africa