Access to land, housing, secondary education, jobs, and social services determined paths of opportunity and social mobility in Ivoirian society, where, for the first three decades after independence, there were clear-cut cleavages between a ruling elite and people who lacked privileged access to resources. This self-reinforcing system allowed a wealthy, urban, privileged minority to receive most of the benefits available to the society as a whole. For example, most urban land concessions were granted to people in government and administration and to their relatives and clients. In fact, political appointments were often accompanied by land concessions in Abidjan, and many Ivoirians attributed the scarcity of land and high levels of rent to this form of patronage.
Urban housing was also a fairly good measure of political status. Cabinet ministers received monthly housing allowances and lived in relative luxury. Government housing policy favored construction of expensive quarters for upper-income families. Rents were high as a proportion of income and often required deposits of several months or years rent in advance. Building a private home required "good standing" within the community in order to meet credit and permit restrictions.
Secondary education was also an important urban resource and vehicle of social mobility. Although primary schools were found throughout the country, secondary schooling was primarily an urban activity, channeling graduates into urban occupations and contributing to the rural exodus. A large proportion of pupils who entered primary school were eliminated at crucial points in the education ladder, especially through limits on secondaryschool and university admissions, but many also dropped out throughout the system. In general, students' educational attainments reflected their parents' level of education. Even when the government achieves its goal of universal primary education, access to secondary schooling is expected to remain an extremely limited, highly valued resource.
By the 1980s, employment had become the most significant indicator of social status. High-level government employees earned salaries several times the national average, and public sector salaries generally exceeded those in the private sector, although this situation was changing in the late 1980s as the government succeeded in freezing civil service pay scales. Rural wages lagged far behind those in urban areas, where the number of unemployed far exceeded the number of available jobs. In a circular fashion, those who were employed had an edge in the job market and in most other areas of social life. Social services were more readily available to those who had jobs or had just lost them, and social service organizations tended to be located in wealthier sections of town. In general, the distribution of government subsidies helped to maintain the distance between urban elites and the rural and urban poor.
The Ivoirian middle class was still a small minority, primarily traders, administrators, teachers, nurses, artisans, and successful farmers. The middle class constituted the highest social stratum in rural areas and some small towns, but the majority of small farmers were not included, nor were the many low-wage earners in urban areas. Middle-class status was, in Côte d'Ivoire as elsewhere, marked by continual striving, for one's self and one's children, to acquire the symbols of wealth. In cities, opportunities for social mobility were limited for the middle class and the poor, who continued to depend on the patronage of the elite to achieve most of their goals.
|Country Studies main page | Ivory coast Country Studies main page|