Does moving to a city mean a better life? New evidence
The fate of people who uproot themselves from the countryside and migrate to cities is widely discussed. Conventional wisdom says that most end up living in shack settlements where they struggle to make ends meet because they lack the skills to compete for the paltry jobs available. Their frustrations give rise to community protests, land invasions and other forms of anti-social behaviour.
An alternative scenario is that by sheer determination they manage to grasp some kind of urban livelihood and gradually claw their way up the job ladder. The outcome is of enormous significance throughout Africa because of the unprecedented scale of urbanisation currently underway. And so, should governments seek to slow down the process, or accept its inevitability and manage it as best they can?
Our recent research suggests that urbanisation in South Africa has been an important source of upward income mobility over the past decade (Visagie & Turok forthcoming). As described and shown below, our estimates from the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) indicate that as many as 385 000 people were lifted above the poverty line between 2008 and 2014 after they had moved from rural to urban areas. They became better-off by gaining access to the labour market. The progress achieved is all the more surprising considering the depressed state of the economy since 2008.