Understanding wage discrimination in a settler colony: Khoesan wages in nineteenth century Cape Colony

Gustafscenen Session 6: Global inequality – levels and trends organized by Ellen Hillbom


Erik Green, Calumet Links


Scholars have extensively studied gender discrimination in various historical and contemporary labour market settings (Boserup 1970, Goldin 1990, Alesina et al 2013). This body of literature has expanded our knowledge of both the origins of gender division of labour and the impacts thereof on developmental outcomes (Humphries 1990). Similarly, it is widely accepted that indigenous populations in colonised regions were discriminated against in colonial labour markets (Ceron et al 2016, Button et al 2020). In this paper, we illustrate these two observations by utilising a unique micro-level wage data set for the indigenous Khoesan agricultural labourers of the early nineteenth century Cape colony (1800 to 1810). The data set contains information about the size of payments, form of payment (in-kind or cash), labour tenure for both male and female labour. and provides the ages for each labourer. The first aim of this paper is therefore to examine whether indigenous Khoesan labour was compensated above or below subsistence level by colonial settler farmers. Secondly, our aim is to assess the degree to which wage discrimination between male and female indigenous labourers occur, through comparing the sizes of payments, form of payment and labour contracts.


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