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Type Working Paper - NIDS-CRAM Working Paper
Title Socioeconomic inequalities in ability to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic: The case of South Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the nature of work, with physical distancing regulations aimed at preventing infections necessitating work-from-home arrangements. According to previous studies, many individuals have expressed a preference for working from home due to fear of contracting the virus at work. However, not all work can be performed from home. Moreover, the literature indicates that jobs that are amenable to be performed from home generally pay more, while the ability to work from home will likely increase income inequality. Therefore, we ascertained the magnitude of the socioeconomic inequalities in ability to work from home among South African employees during the pandemic. We used data from the last four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study - Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, a nationally representative longitudinal telephonic survey of South African adults conducted between May 2020 and May 2021. Using years of education as the ranking variable and calculating concentration indices, we found that the ability to work from home was pro-rich (i.e. concentrated more on the better off) in all the study periods. The results were robust to the use of different ranking variables like per capita household income and monthly wage as well as varying the age cut-off. There was no gender difference in the inequalities. Casual employment, urban residence, being married/cohabiting, age, and household size dampened the degree to which ability to work from home favoured those in higher socioeconomic classes. Conversely, being non-African, living in a house/flat, and having more education enhanced the pro-richness of ability to work from home. This study highlights the significant inequalities associated with ability to work from home, a likely important determinant of labour market attachment and economic outcomes in the pandemic and post-pandemic periods. Interventions targeted at inequality-enhancing factors like race, housing and education may be important in lowering these inequalities.

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