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(First published in The Media April 2016)

Race, as we all know, is a sensitive issue to deal with even in research terms – with some feeling it is a concept that should be relegated to the annals of the past, and others that it cannot be consigned to the dustbin as it is has huge relevance on a number of fronts, not least of which is the commercial space.  An offshoot of this debate is that many feel there are several other variables that can be used in lieu of race as obviously the colour of skin is not the critical defining feature.  Many years ago the derivation of LSMs was an attempt to get away from broad racial demographic claims.

Since 2006 futurefact has been measuring class shifts but the survey has also monitored race and a great many other variables.  There are fascinating insights to be gleaned from looking at those who have seen social shifts upwards or downwards from their parents’ generation to their own.  And in combination with who they are racially, plus including a range of other variables like age cohort, educational level achieved and work status, we have a rich source of real differentiation between different sectors in our complex social world. 

One of the main insights to emerge from the 2015/16 survey is that young educated black people in South Africa, contrary to the noise and protests on university campuses, are generally positive about the diversity in the country.  84% of black 18-34 year olds who have a post matric education believe that all South Africans can co-exist peacefully without losing their own cultural identity and 74% that black and white people need each other for the country to prosper.  Three quarters have friends in other race groups and are less likely than average to feel that whites should still feel guilty about apartheid.  It is also true however, that even those who have seen a class shift upwards in their own lives, believe that in this country whites still feel superior to black people. 

The importance of possessions and brands as a reflection of identity and success shouldn’t be underestimated in those who have moved upwards on the social mobility ladder (we are talking about 5.2 million people in this respect).  53% say that the best way to see if someone is successful is through their possessions and in the same vein, 64% look up to and respect those who have expensive cars, clothes and lifestyles.  Fully 68% say it is important to buy the right brand to reflect who you are as a person.  And substantial numbers of those who have seen a shift upwards and who have a post matric education (1.2 million) are involved in the decision making on all major purchases:  buying a house, investing their money, taking out insurance, buying computers and electronic goods, changing banks, buying furniture, buying a car and of course all the usual retail purchases like clothing and groceries etc. (See graphic)

Class and education influence on purchasing decisions

While the belief prevails in this country that it is possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, it is also true that ‘black tax’ is still eating away at incomes in those who are relatively better off than their relatives.  70% of those who have risen up the social mobility ladder say they have to help to support other family members.  Nonetheless as long as the social mobility escalator continues to move, it does appear that there is still an optimism about the future, that things will improve for themselves and their children, and a spirit of resilience exists despite the stringent economic times. 

futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2015/16 which is based on a probability sample of 3,015 adults aged 18 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa - representing 22,8 million adults living in 9.4 million households. If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www.futurefact.co.za