Social Indicators Research

, Volume 113, Issue 3, pp 915–940 | Cite as

South African Quality of Life Trends Over Three Decades, 1980–2010

  • Valerie MøllerEmail author


The South African Quality of Life Trends study has tracked the subjective well-being of South Africans in ten waves from 1983 to 2010. The paper presents the SAQoL trendline of life satisfaction, happiness and perceptions of life getting better or worse against the backdrop of the transition from apartheid to democracy. Subjective well-being peaked in the month following the first open elections in April 1994 when black and white South Africans were equally satisfied and happy at levels found in other democratic societies. But post-election euphoria was short-lived and levels of well-being dropped the following year and racial inequalities in evaluations of life re-emerged. The tenth and latest wave in the study was conducted a few months after South Africa’s successful hosting of the Soccer World Cup. In 2010, the proportions of all South Africans expressing satisfaction, happiness and optimism was among the highest since the coming of democracy—just over half stated they were satisfied, close on two-thirds were happy, and half felt life was getting better. Nonetheless, while the standard of living has increased for a minority of formerly disadvantaged South Africans and a small black middle class has emerged, there are still huge disparities in both material and subjective well-being. In 1997 and 2010, South Africans were asked what would make them happier in future. In 2010, the majority of citizens still hoped for basic necessities, income and employment, to enhance their quality of life.


Trends in subjective well-being Life satisfaction Happiness Life getting better South Africa 



This paper is dedicated to Lawrence Schlemmer (1936–2011) who had the foresight to initiate the SAQoL trends study and South Africa’s social indicators movement in the late 1970s. He vetted the items included in the tenth wave and would have endorsed South Africa’s optimism for the future. A generous grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF) funded the 2010 wave of the SAQoL trends study. However, findings, opinions and conclusions in this paper are mine and should not be attributed to the National Research Foundation or any of my colleagues.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social and Economic ResearchRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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