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Migration stats temper ‘white flight’

Sep 10 2017 06:00
Dewald Van Rensburg

A little-noticed revision of population estimates has dramatically lowered the previously estimated scale of the exodus of white people from South Africa in the first decade of democracy.

At the same time, it seems the amount of migration into South Africa by black people has, up to now, been vastly overstated for the same period.

When Stats SA published its annual mid-year population estimate last month, the net migration numbers looked different from those in previous years.

The estimate for net emigration by white people has dropped by 36%.

Instead of emigration lowering the white population by 440 000 between 1986 and 2006, as previously stated, the white flight effect is now believed to have been closer to 280 000.

The new estimate for net immigration by black people in that period has changed by a similar degree.

Instead of immigration adding 1.5 million people to the black population, this is now estimated to have been closer to 1 million.

Estimates for the decade up to last year have also been revised, but to a less extreme degree.

Indian and coloured migration estimates did not undergo similarly dramatic revisions.

In a response to a City Press query last week, Stats SA explained that the migration numbers were, to some extent, inevitably a guesstimate.

“The migration assumptions in the report are indeed plausible assumptions in the face of the lack of more empirical data,” it said.

The migration estimates are ultimately the outcome of the other factors that influence the population – fertility and mortality.

The reason the numbers changed was to make the population estimates by race square up with the population structure recorded in the 2011 national census, given what is known about births and deaths.

If new data contradicts the old fertility rates or mortality rates, Stats SA has to alter its assumptions about migration to make the census numbers make sense.

“Estimation of the population is a culmination of fertility and mortality, as well as migration over time,” said Stats SA.

“Recently, there has been evidence to suggest that there has been a fluctuation of fertility in between the censuses.

“Bearing in mind the changes in fertility assumptions, it is expected that the assumptions of either mortality and/or migration would also likely change if we are to reach the census 2011 age and sex population structure,” Stats SA added.

More accurate measures of migration, especially by race, are “indeed very much lacking in South Africa”.

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stats sa  |  emigration  |  population  |  sa economy

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