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Journal of Psychology in Africa
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpia20
Racial relations and life satisfaction among South
Africans: Results from the 2017 South African
Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS)
Adekunle Adedeji, Erhabor S. Idemudia, Obasanjo Afolabi Bolarinwa &
To cite this article: Adekunle Adedeji, Erhabor S. Idemudia, Obasanjo Afolabi Bolarinwa & Franka
Metzner (2021) Racial relations and life satisfaction among South Africans: Results from the 2017
South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), Journal of Psychology in Africa, 31:5, 522-528,
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2021.1978183
Published online: 30 Oct 2021.
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Journal of Psychology in Africa is co-published by NISC (Pty) Ltd and Informa UK Limited (trading as Taylor & Francis Group)
Journal of Psychology in Africa, 2021
Vol. 31, No. 5, 522–528, https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2021.1978183
© 2021 Africa Scholarship Development Enterprize
Positive racial relations presume an appreciation of
mutual habitation (Diène & UN Commission on Human
Right, 2006). Accordingly, race relations characterised
by equity and friendliness are essential for populations’
well-being (Patchen, 1999; Schulz et al., 2002; Valdez &
Golash-Boza, 2017), particularly in post-colonial country
settings such as South Africa (Staples, 1976). Despite the
progress made in many economic and social development
dimensions since post-apartheid in 1994, South Africa
remains one of the world’s most racially unequal countries
(United Nations Human Development Report, 2009).
Recent evidence suggests that racial minorities have low
life satisfaction due to depraved mental health, physical
health, environment, and socioeconomic circumstances
Globally, there is evidence of interracial strife
(Kirmanoğlu & Başlevent, 2014), with chronic
discrimination against minority race members by the
numerical majority group (Taylor & Turner, 2002).
South Africa, otherwise known as the “Rainbow Nation”
(a metaphor for a multiracial and ethnic country), has a
history of interracial conicts (Buqa, 2015; Olzak &
Olivier, 1998). There is evidence that experience of racial
discrimination is a risk factor for poor mental and physical
health outcomes (Hackett et al., 2020; Paradies et al.,
2015; Williams, 2018; Williams et al., 2019). However,
in post-apartheid South Africa, the racial majority (black
South Africans) are minorities economically (Møller,
2007) – thereby creating a unique pattern where the
numerical majority may have lower satisfaction with their
lives; resulting in more decient interracial interactions
(Ebrahim et al., 2013).
Socioeconomic stand and racial relation in
post-apartheid South Africa
According to Botha and colleagues (2018) and Mafini
(2017), some socioeconomic and demographic factors
moderate social relations’ effect on life satisfaction. A
study conducted by Davids and Gaibie (2011) identified
eight significant determinants of quality of life in post-
apartheid South Africa: race, gender, age, geographic
location, education level, living standard measure (LSM),
satisfaction with basic services, and fear of crime. In
addition, Patel and colleagues (2009) and Hino and
colleagues (2018) considered race a crucial determinant in
experiencing the desired quality of life in post-apartheid
South Africa. Studies have identified racial bias in social
and economic opportunities in post-colonial society
(Branson & Wittenberg, 2007; Leibbrandt et al., 2012;
Seekings, 2008). These historic inequalities may translate
into hostile interracial relationships (Vincent, 2008).
Goal of the study
This study examined the relationship between racial group
membership and life satisfaction among South Africans.
Our research questions were:
How does racial membership explain life satisfaction
among South African adults?
To what extent do the quality of interracial
relationships and socioeconomic factors explain life
satisfaction among South African adults?
Sources of data
We accessed the South African Social Attitudes Survey
data (SASAS, 2017). As indicated in Table 1, the sample
characteristics were as follows: females = (61%); blacks
Racial relations and life satisfaction among South Africans: Results from the 2017 South
African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS)
Adekunle Adedeji1* , Erhabor S. Idemudia1, Obasanjo Afolabi Bolarinwa2 and Franka Metzner3
1Faculty of Humanities, North-West University, Mafikeng, South Africa
2Department of Public Health Medicine, School of Nursing and Public Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
3Department of Medical Psychology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
The current study examined differences in race relations as a predictor of life satisfaction among South African adults. We
analysed data from the South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017 (n = 3 135; female = 61%; black = 61% , coloured/
mixed-race = 16%, Indian South Africans = 11%, and white South Africans = 11%; mean age = 43 years, SD = 17.22
years). Linear regression models indicated that positive racial interaction predicted life satisfaction for black Africans,
coloured/mixed-race, and the total sample in general. For the black Africans, education, household income, and living
standard predicted life satisfaction, while age and household income predicted life satisfaction for the coloured/mixed-race
group. Living standard predicted life satisfaction for South African Indians, and age and education predicted life satisfaction
for white South Africans. These results support the importance of positive relations and diversity as salient sources of life
satisfaction in a society transforming from a history of racial segregation.
Keywords: black African, discrimination, life satisfaction, racial relations, representative survey, South African Social
Racial relations and life satisfaction among South Africans 523
(61%), coloured/mixed-race (16%), Indian (11%), and
white (11%); mean age = 43 years (SD = 17.22 years).
Most of the black African participants (59%) reported
moderate (middle) living standards. However, for
coloured/mixed-race participants, a majority of 51%
reported high living standard. In comparison, 78% and
87% of Indians and whites, respectively, reported a high
The Personal Well-being Index (PWI: International Well-
being Group, 2013) is a subjective measure of life quality.
The PWI summarises individual perceptions of living
standards, health, achievements in life, relationships,
safety, community connectedness, future, and security.
Participants rate their satisfaction with areas of their life
using a scale ranging from 0 = not at all satisfied with
life, to 10 = absolute satisfaction with life. For the current
sample, we observed a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.96 for scores
from the PWI.
The Subjective Evaluation of Interactions (Sigelman et al.,
1996) measures perceptions of interracial groups’ equality
and friendliness. Participants rate how much they agree
with the statements using a 5-point Likert scale, ranging
from 1 = totally agree, to 5 = totally disagree. In the present
study, the Cronbach’s alpha reliability of scores was 0.84
A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to
compare the effect of race on life satisfaction among black
Africans, coloured/mixed-race, Indian, and white South
Africans. Pearson’s correlations were applied to explore
the bivariate relationships between life satisfaction, racial
relations, socioeconomic, and demographic features. We
performed multiple linear regression analyses to predict
life satisfaction by racial interaction and racial group
membership. In doing so, we considered the influence
of sociodemographic variables and living standard to
determine which factors to include as control variable. We
conducted a literature review to identify likely covariants
for minorities life satisfaction (Cheng et al., 2021). We
kept the tests for statistical significance at p < 0.05 for all
As indicated in Table 2, the aggregated life satisfaction
scores showed a moderate positive correlation
with the interracial relations in terms of equal
interactions (r = 0.233; p < 0.01) and friendly contacts
(r = 0.244; p < 0.01). Life satisfaction was weakly and
positively associated with age (r = 0.049; p < 0.05)
and education (r = 0.116; p < 0.01). Lastly, household
income (r = 0.331; p < 0.01) and living standard
(r = 0.404; p < 0.01) had a moderate association with life
Table 1. Socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of participants (South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017, n = 3 135)
Black Africans Coloured Indian White Total
Male 735 38.3 167 32.9 151 42.2 171 49.0 1224 39.0
Female 1186 61.7 340 67.1 207 57.8 178 51.0 1911 61.0
Married 486 25.3 225 44.4 206 57.5 221 63.3 1138 36.3
Separated from spouse / partner 64 3.3 14 2.8 11 3.1 4 1.1 93 3.0
Divorced 43 2.2 29 5.7 14 3.9 12 3.4 98 3.1
Widowed 168 8.7 46 9.1 62 17.3 42 12.0 318 10.1
Never married but engaged 86 4.5 17 3.4 2 0.6 11 3.2 116 3.7
Never married and not engaged 1032 53.7 171 33.7 56 15.6 52 14.9 1311 41.8
(Refused to answer) 15 0.8 4 0.8 3 0.8 3 0.9 25 0.8
(Do not know) 3 0.2 – – – – 1 0.3 4 0.1
(No answer) 24 1.2 1 0.2 4 1.1 3 0.9 32 1.0
Highest education level
Primary 402 20.9 100 19.7 61 17.0 9 2.6 572 18.2
Some secondary, excl. Matric 704 36.6 222 43.8 103 28.8 78 22.3 1107 35.3
Matric or equivalent 596 31.0 130 25.6 136 38.0 162 46.4 1024 32.7
Tertiary education 178 9.3 50 9.9 50 14.0 96 27.5 374 11.9
(Other/Do not know) 13 0.7 4 0.8 3 0.8 2 0.6 22 0.7
(No answer) 28 1.5 1 0.2 5 1.4 2 0.6 36 1.1
Low 110 5.7 3 0.6 – – – – 113 3.6
Middle 1128 58.7 217 42.8 49 13.7 18 5.2 1412 45.0
High 481 25.0 259 51.1 280 78.2 304 87.1 1324 42.2
(No answer) 202 10.5 28 5.5 29 8.1 27 7.7 286 9.1
Adedeji et al.
Similarly, racial relations had a positive association
with education, household income, and living standard.
Equal racial relations showed a week positive correlation
with education (r = 0.045; p < 0.05), household income
(r = 0.092; p < 0.05), and with living standard measure
(r = 0.145; p < 0.01). Additionally, friendly contact
showed a weak positive association with education
(r = 0.056; p < 0.05), income (r = 0.116; p < 0.01), and
with living standard measure (r = 0.143; p < 0.01).
Data on racial relations shows that about 60% of black
African participants reported equal interaction with other
races. About 70% of coloured/mixed-race, 74% of Indian
participants, and 72% of white participants also report
equal interaction with other racial groups. Similarly, 59%
of black African participants, 75% of coloured/mixed-race,
73% of Indian, and 70% of white participants reported
friendly contact with other racial groups.
As indicated in Table 3, we observed a significant effect
of race on life satisfaction at the p < 0.05 level for all four
race group (F(3, 3131) = 100.006, p < 0.001). Six paired-
samples t-tests using the Scheffe test indicated significant
differences (p < 0.001) between mean life satisfaction
score for black Africans (M = 60.3, SD = 15.8) and
coloured/mixed-race participants (M = 67.3, SD = 15.2);
black Africans and Indians (M = 71.2, SD = 15.7); black
and white Africans (M = 71.7, SD = 12.9); coloured/
mixed-race participants and Indians; and coloured/mixed-
race and white participants. However, as depicted in
Figure 1, the mean life satisfaction score for Indians South
Africans did not significantly differ from the mean life
satisfaction score for Whites (p = 0.986).
Predicting life satisfaction from racial group
The results of the linear regression models presented in
Table 4, indicated that life satisfaction was significantly
associated with racial relations (adjusted R2 = 0.07)
for equal interactions (β = 0.115; p < 0.001), and
friendly contacts (β = 0.159; p < 0.001). Participants’
sociodemographic factors household income (β = 0.105;
p < 0.001), and living standard (β = 0.304; p < 0.001)
predicted life satisfaction (adjusted R2 = 0.21)
Black African racial group
For black African participants, we observed significant
influences of race (equal interactions β = 0.112; p = 0.009,
Table 2. Correlation Matrix1 (South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017, n = 3 135)
Age Education Household
Life satisfaction 1
Racial relations Interact as equal 0.233** 1
Friendly contact 0.244** 0.746** 1
Age 0.049* –0.026 –0.012 1
Education 0.116** 0.045* 0.056* –0.224** 1
Household income 0.331** 0.092** 0.116** 0.018 0.251** 1
Living standard measure 0.404** 0.145** 0.143** 0.059** 0.308** 0.673** 1
Note. **Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed); * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed);
1Listwise n = 2 065
Table 3. Descriptive distribution of life satisfaction score by race and Scheffe Multiple Comparisons ANOVA test (South African
Social Attitudes Survey 2017, n = 3 135)
Race (I) N (I) Mean (I) SD (I) SE (I) Race (J)
1 921 60.3024 15.76750 0.35975 Coloured −6.98552* 0.76789 < 0.001 −9.1333 −4.8377
Indian −10.92381* 0.88534 < 0.001 −13.4001 −8.4475
White −11.36804* 0.89491 < 0.001 −13.8711 −8.8650
507 67.2880 15.24477 0.67704 Black African 6.98552* 0.76789 < 0.001 4.8377 9.1333
Indian −3.93829* 1.06171 0.003 −6.9079 −0.9687
White −4.38252* 1.06970 0.001 −7.3745 −1.3906
Indian 358 71.2263 15.68605 0.82903 Black African 10.92381* 0.88534 < 0.001 8.4475 13.4001
Coloured 3.93829* 1.06171 0.003 0.9687 6.9079
White −0.44423 1.15691 0.986 −3.6801 2.7916
White 349 71.6705 12.88757 0.68986 Black African 11.36804* 0.89491 < 0.001 8.8650 13.8711
Coloured 4.38252* 1.06970 0.001 1.3906 7.3745
Indian 0.44423 1.15691 0.986 −2.7916 3.6801
Total 3 135 63.9451 16.09182 0.28740
Note. *The mean difference is significant at the 0.05 level; Dependent Variable: Life Satisfaction
Racial relations and life satisfaction among South Africans 525
and friendly contacts β = 0.180; p < 0.001, R2 = 0.08).
The sociodemographic variables of household income
(β = 0.095; p = 0.002) and living standard (β = 0.265;
p < 0.001) predicted life satisfaction (adjusted R2 = 0.17).
For the coloured/mixed-race participants, we observed a
significant association between equal interaction and life
satisfaction score (β = 0.158; p = 0.016) , and also by age
(β = 0.145; p = 0.008), and household income (β = 0.154;
p < 0.022; adjusted R2 = 0.21)
Indian racial group
The linear regression models suggested that life
satisfaction was not significantly associated with racial
relations for the Indian racial group. Moreover, only living
standard (β = 0.174; p = 0.036) returned significant results
(adjusted R2 = 0.03), indicating low explanatory power in
this racial grouping.
White racial group
For the white racial group, life satisfaction was not
significantly associated with racial relations qualities.
However, participants’ age (β = 0.191; p = 0.021) and
educational attainment (β = .189; p = 0.032) showed
significant association with life satisfaction and account
for 11% variance in life satisfaction (adjusted R
p = 0.001).
A comparison of results from the regression models reveals
that only black African participants reported a significant
association between both measures of racial relations
and life satisfaction. Coloured/mixed-race participants
show that only interaction as equal produced a significant
association with life satisfaction. Following Cohen (2013),
however, the predictive effects of interaction as equal as a
measure of interracial relation were stronger for coloured/
mixed-race participants (β = 0.158; p = 0.016) than for
black African participants (β = 0.112; p < 0.01).
The current study examined how racial and socioeconomic
factors predict life satisfaction among a representative
sample of South African adults. We observed significant
differences in life satisfaction based on racial membership.
Black South African participants reported the lowest
life satisfaction, and white South Africans the highest
life satisfaction. The lower life satisfaction and lower
socioeconomic status among the black adults are likely
explained by South Africans’ historical segregation
(Gradín, 2019). This segregation denied many black South
Africans well-paid employment participation and have
impoverished intergenerationally (Leibbrandt et al., 2010).
These findings are consistent with those of previous studies
which reported low socioeconomic status to be associated
with lower satisfaction with life (Hiscock et al., 2014;
Tan et al., 2020; Tull, 2013). The disadvantaged group’s
inability to meet daily needs would negatively affect both
the quality of, and satisfaction with, life (Adedeji et al.,
2019; Tan et al., 2020).
For black Africans, racial relations and life satisfaction
were associated with higher household income, education,
and living standard. Similarly, for the coloured/mixed-
race group, the positive association between better racial
relations and higher life satisfaction scores was explained
by older age and higher household income. People with
higher socio-economic status have more opportunities for
equitable outgroup relationships compared to those with
lower socio-economic status (Li et al., 2020; Adedeji et
al., 2021). Similarly, intergroup interactions act as bridging
mechanism across the socioeconomic gap (Boyce et al.,
2010; Frijters et al., 2004; Salinas-Jiménez et al., 2011;
Wolbring et al., 2013), thereby reduces racial discord and
facilitates socioeconomic integration of disadvantaged
groups (Akindès, 2018; Bangane, 1991).
Figure 1. Life Satisfaction mean score distribution by race (South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017, n = 3 135)
Black Africans Coloured/Mixed Race Indian White
Adedeji et al.
Table 4. Multiple regression models exploring racial relations and life satisfaction (South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017, n = 3 135)
Black African Coloured Indian White Total
Bβp B βp B βp B βp B βp
Constant 44.767 < 0.001 62.874 < 0.001 59.817 < 0.001 67.356 < 0.001 47.355 < 0.001
as equals 1.582 0.112 0.009 2.408 0.158 0.016 0.904 0.046 0.581 2.014 0.134 0.327 1.784 0.115 < 0.001
contacts 2.558 0.180 < 0.001 −1.389 −0.072 0.268 2.166 0.109 0.195 −0.580 −0.041 0.765 2.516 0.159 < 0.001
Adjusted R20.075 0.011 0.012 −0.003 0.07
ΔF (df1, df2)
ΔF (2, 1313) = 54.519
p < 0.001
ΔF (2, 344) = 3.012
p = 0.050
ΔF (2, 236) = 2.445
p = 0.89
ΔF (2, 139) = 0.774
p = 0.463
ΔF (2, 2041) = 71.50
p < 0.001
Constant 46.355 < 0.001 48.573 < 0.001 50.507 < 0.001 39.144 < 0.001 44.185 < 0.001
as equals 1.231 0.087 0.033 2.351 0.155 0.019 0.826 0.042 0.612 3.183 0.212 0.106 1.380 0.089 0.003
contacts 2.209 0.156 < 0.001 −0.990 −0.052 0.422 2.360 0.118 0.156 −1.049 −0.074 0.568 1.954 0.123 < 0.001
Age −0.044 −0.046 0.078 0.137 0.145 0.008 0.070 0.072 0.297 0.139 0.191 0.021 0.030 0.031 0.124
Education −0.020 −0.010 0.725 −0.145 −0.057 0.318 0.022 0.006 0.934 0.504 0.189 0.032 −0.019 −0.008 0.716
income 0.518 0.095 0.002 0.878 0.154 0.022 0.033 0.005 0.950 0.603 0.128 0.170 0.546 0.105 < 0.001
measure 5.619 0.265 < 0.001 1.782 0.086 0.221 4.421 0.174 0.036 2.721 0.152 0.095 5.620 0.304 < 0.001
Adjusted R20.177 0.061 0.029 0.113 0.21
ΔF (4, 1309) = 48.044
p < 0.001
ΔF (4, 340) = 4.742
p < 0.001
ΔF (4, 232) = 2.166
p = 0.047
ΔF (4, 135) = 3.999
p < 0.001
ΔF (4, 2037) = 89.63
p < 0.001
Change in R2 0.11 0.06 0.033 0.140 0.14
Change in F, p-value 41.49, p < 0.001 5.53, p < 0.001 2.005, p = 0.093 5.560, p < 0.001, 92.30, p < 0.001
Note. Model 1: Evaluate the predictive effect of racial relations, as in interactions as equals and friendly contacts, on life satisfaction. Model 2: Assess the added predictive effect of age, education,
household income, and living standard on the impact of interracial relations, as in interactions as equals and friendly contacts, on life satisfaction
Racial relations and life satisfaction among South Africans 527
For the Indian South African participants, a higher
living standard was signicant for higher life satisfaction.
Indian South Africans have signicant business ownership
(Bhowan & Tewari, 1997) aording them a better life
(Ntloedibe & Ngqinani, 2020). Older white South Africans
have cumulative social and economic wealth which would
enhance their social well-being (Cutler & Lleras-Muney,
2006; Schillinger et al., 2006).
Limitations of the study and suggestions for further
The cross-sectional design data limits the generalisability
of the results. A longitudinal study on interracial relations
and advancement in socioeconomic status – as South
Africa move further away from apartheid – will provide
better insight into the relationship between interracial
relations, socioeconomic status, and life satisfaction.
Further analyses examining intergenerational differences
(apartheid and post-apartheid) will provide a better insight
into race as a predictor of well-being. Furthermore, a
comparative study of the effects of racial relations between
countries with varying race will advance knowledge on
sociocultural determinants of well-being.
The results show a significant difference in life satisfaction
based on race. Black South African participants were
the least satisfied with their life, followed by coloured/
mixed-race, and Indian South Africans. For the Indian
South African participants, a higher living standard was
more important for better life satisfaction. Older age and
higher education attainment were significant, with better
life satisfaction for white South African participants. These
results suggest the lingering effects of race-based privilege
and disadvantages in post-apartheid in South Africa.
This article was written as part of a Feodor Lynen Research
Fellowship funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
The authors have no conflict or competing interest. Data
included in this report are available on request. All procedures
were by institutional and national research committee’s ethical
standards and comparable ethical standards. Informed consent
was obtained from all individual participants included in the
The authors acknowledged the Human Science Research
Council (HSRC), South Africa, for granting us access to the
South African Social Attitudes Survey 2017 dataset. The author
also acknowledges the Faculty of Humanities, North-West
University, South Africa.
Adekunle Adedeji – http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4828-1529
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