Apr 072016

In August 2012, in The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home, we saw that a study by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) based on 2010 data had calculated that routine work done in the home (almost 80% of the time-value involved comes from women) was worth about 2.9 trillion pesos to the Mexican economy each year, equivalent to more than 20% of Mexico’s GDP. The INEGI calculations included the costs in time/labor needed to meet the demands of the home, and the net salary that would be paid for someone undertaking similar tasks.

INEGI has just published updated statistics on this topic.  In 2014, unpaid work by women in the home was equivalent to 18% of GDP. This figure means that female contributions in the home continue to make a greater contribution to national GDP than manufacturing (16.7%), commerce (15.5%) or education (4.1%).

The latest INEGI figures show that for every 10 hours that women work (paid or unpaid), men work only 8.3 hours. According to INEGI, the average value of unpaid work by women in the home in rural areas amounted to  51,808 pesos a year (about US$4300 at the then rate of exchange). The value for women married or living with a partner was 61,456 pesos, compared to 26,082 pesos for single women. The average in households which included children under 6 years of age was 60,628 pesos.

Of 29 million Mexicans in employment (in 5.7 million economic units), women account for 43.8% (graph):

% of women in different sectors of the workforce

% of women in different sectors of the workforce, 2014

The figures do reveal a slight decrease in gender inequality since the employment of women is rising slightly faster than that of men, by about 2.0%/year compared to the overall figure of 1.4%/year. In 2014, about 50% of service workers, 34.5% of manufacturing workers, and 11.0% of construction workers were female.

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Dec 122013

Today is 12 December, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the beloved indigenous patron saint of Mexico and much of the Americas. This seems like a good excuse, if ever one was needed, to revisit the “Gender Gap” in Mexico. The gender gap assesses the “gap” between females and males for a number of variables, but should not be taken as reflecting the quality of life of females in different countries.  For example, the gender gap between women in Japan and Japanese men is very large, even though Japanese women enjoy a relatively high quality of life.

In “The Global Gender Gap Report 2013″, the World Economic Forum (WEF), based in Geneva, Switzerland, placed Mexico 68th of the 136 nations included in the study. Between them, the 136 nations house 93% of the world population. Mexico has risen 16 places in the rankings since 2012, meaning that the gender gap in Mexico is narrowing, even if there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality. (It is worth noting that Mexico has been climbing steadily up the rankings for several years, from #98 in 2009, to #91 in 201, #89 in 2011 and #84 in 2012).

Of the 136 countries studied for the 2013 report, Iceland had the smallest gender gap, for the 5th year running, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Among Latin American nations, Nicaragua had the smallest gender gap (placing 10th in the world), with Cuba, which has the highest female participation in government, coming in 15th and Brazil remaining 62nd. Other notable placings were Germany 14th, and South Africa 17th.

gender gap graph for Mexico

How Mexico (country score) compares to other countries (sample average). Source: Gender Gap Report 2013

The Gender Gap Index is a composite index comprised of a number of variables grouped into four key areas:

  • health and survival
  • educational attainment
  • political empowerment
  • economic participation

As noted in our summary of the 2012 Gender Gap Report, Mexico ranks #1 in the world, tying with several other countries, for the health and survival subindex. This means that Mexican females are unsurpassed with respect to sex ratio at birth (female/male) combined with female life expectancy (female/male).

For the other subindexes, in 2013 Mexico ranked #36 for political empowerment and #70 for educational attainment, but a lowly #111 for economic participation.

Geo-Mexico agrees wholeheartedly with Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, who called for renewed efforts to ensure gender equality, saying that, “Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently – including how they integrate women into leadership roles. This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today.”

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The pattern of unemployment in Mexico in 2013

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Nov 182013

The accuracy of Mexico’s unemployment statistics is frequently questioned in the media but INEGI, Mexico’s National Geography, Statistics and Information Institute, uses internationally accepted methods to compute various different unemployment indices. As in most countries, INEGI surveys are based on samples in urban areas, involving 80,000 interviews in more than 30 towns and cities.

The International Labour Organization defines “unemployed workers” as those members of the workforce currently not working but willing and able to work, who have actively sought work in the past four weeks. Note that the mere act of looking at newspaper or online ads is not considered sufficient evidence of “actively seeking work”.

Mexico’s economically active population in the third quarter of 2013 was 52.3 million people, a very slight (0.01%) increase on the comparable figure for 2012.  The figure represents 59% of the total population aged 14 and over.

INEGI statistics show that the under-employed population was 8.5% of all those with jobs. The unemployed population was 2.7 million, 5.2% of the workforce.

Mexico’s workforce is not gender-independent. 77 out of every 100 men are economically active, compared to only 43 of every 100 women. The workforce can be subdivided between primary occupations (6.8 million, 13.8% of the total workforce); secondary occupations (11.9 million, 24%) and the tertiary or services sector (30.6 million, 61.6% of  workforce), with the remaining 0.6% undeclared.

Map of unemployment rates

Unemployment in Mexico, third quarter of 2013. Cartography: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Out-migration from several southern and western states has significantly reduced unemployment. Several southern states are among those with the lowest unemployment rates in the entire country.

The highest rates of unemployment are mainly in northern Mexico, parts of which have seen on-going violence in the war against drugs. Workers flocked to these areas during the boom times of Mexico’s maquiladora program when firms were encouraged to set up “in-bond” factories in these states, enjoying the freedom to import components and export finished products. However, the slow recovery of the US economy has reduced demand for consumer products and many maquiladora factories have reduced their workforce, leading to intense competition for available jobs and a higher rate of unemployment.

What other factors influence unemployment and help explain the patterns shown by the map?

This post describes the spatial pattern of unemployment in the third quarter of 2013. By way of comparison with 2010, see

Mexico’s economy and workforce are analyzed in chapters 14 to 20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

Women’s Migration Networks in Mexico and Beyond (review)

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Nov 172012

As long ago as 1885, Ernst Georg Ravenstein, a German-English cartographer, proposed seven “laws of migration” that arose from his studies of migration in the U.K.

The original seven laws, as expressed by Ravenstein, were:

  • 1) Most migrants only proceed a short distance, and toward centers of absorption.
  • 2) As migrants move toward absorption centers, they leave “gaps” that are filled up by migrants from more remote districts, creating migration flows that reach to “the most remote corner of the kingdom.”
  • 3) The process of dispersion is inverse to that of absorption.
  • 4) Each main current of migration produces a compensating counter-current.
  • 5) Migrants proceeding long distances generally go by preference to one of the great centers of commerce or industry.
  • 6) The natives of towns are less migratory than those of the rural parts of the country.
  • 7) Females are more migratory than males.

These laws, though certainly not accepted uncritically, have provided a basic framework for many later studies of migration. Surprisingly, despite the wording of law 7, there has been remarkably little focus on female migration in the literature, with far more attention being paid in most studies to the migration of men.

Wilson-Tamar-Diana-coverRecognizing this, anthropologist Tamar Wilson provides a detailed account of several important aspects of female migration in her Women’s Migration Networks in Mexico and Beyond (University of New Mexico Press, 2009).

Wilson’s book focuses on the experiences and thoughts of doña Consuelo [all names are pseudonyms], a woman she met while researching in Colonia Popular, a Mexicali squatter settlement, in 1988, and her daughters Anamaria and Irma.

Over a period of several years, and in small part due to marrying a man from Colonia Popular, the author was able to become an insider, invited to all family functions, helping pay for expenses of other family members for such things as tuition, gaining a unique perspective that extends far beyond that usually available to researchers. Yet, at the same time, she remained an observer, recording conversations and impressions and arranging interviews as she felt necessary in order to tease out the details relating to the migration network involved.

The book is solidly grounded in migration theory and the early chapters call heavily on secondary sources. The first chapter (Herstories) provides a useful summary of the history of Mexican migration to the USA since the mid-nineteenth century, and of the increasing participation of women in international migration from Mexico.

Chapter 2 summarizes the history of female employment in Mexico over the same time period, and changes in gender relations in recent decades, while Chapter 3 provides the theoretical background, emphasizing the key concepts of migration networks, social capital and the peculiarities of transnational migration.

Wilson summarizes the findings of previous studies as suggesting that, “Women migrants within Mexico tend to be disproportionately single and either separated, abandoned, or widowed, and single mothers tend to accompany parents. Young, single women seem to be attracted to the border by the possibilities of finding work in the maquiladoras, underscoring women’s generally ignored status as labor migrants. ” However, based on her fieldwork between 1988 and 1992, she found that  “None of the women in Colonia Popular had migrated to Mexicali in order to work in the maquiladoras, but some of their teenage daughters were employed in those assembly plants”.

Six chapters then focus on the personal experiences of doña Consuelo and her family and friends. Extensive quotations (translated into English) from interviews are linked with a clear narrative. These chapters are full of interest as the reader is drawn into the lives of the women and family members involved.

In the final chapter, Wilson draws nine general conclusions from her research:

  1. Poor women in Mexico engage in a variety of income-producing activities in both the formal and informal economies that may involve migration.
  2. Many if not most women accept the system of male domination but may opt out of an unhappy marriage if men do not live up to certain standards they consider fair. This is especially true in urban areas where women can find work.
  3. Although many women migrate under the auspices of husbands or fathers, women’s migration in Mexico can take [place independently of males.
  4. Extended family migration to a given city often also involves migration to a specific colonia or neighborhood within that city.
  5. The social capital provided by networks exists on individual, familial and community levels
  6. Strong ties can be either reinforced or weakened over time and the family life cycle, and weak tie can be converted into strong ties or abandoned. Transnational migration networks multiply in urban centers when siblings or offspring marry.
  7. Transnational migration networks can be anchored in a multiplicity of locales, including place of origin, place of anterior (internal or transnational) migration, or place of one’s current residence or that of one’s parents, spouse’s parents or other kin
  8. Adaptation networks for urban-origin migrants at destination may be, to a great extent, composed of work-site acquaintances converted into friends or ritual kin, and both friends and ritual kin may introduce migrants to future friends and ritual kin.
  9. Transnationalism involves individuals embedded in households, families and networks who, through their ability to cross borders, provide connecting links between kin in Mexico and kin in the United States.

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Nov 012012

The recently published Gender Gap Report 2012 indicates that Mexico still has considerable work to do, though its gender gap is closing. The report does not reveal much about the quality of life of females in different countries, rather it focuses on the “gap” between females and males. For example, women in Japan have a relatively high quality of life, but the gap between them and Japanese men is very large. Thus Japan ranks 101st out of 135 countries.

The report ranks Mexico 84th out of 135 countries which does not sound so good. However, Mexico has been moving up in the ranks. It was 89th in 2011, 91st in 2010, 98th in 2009, 97th in 2008, and 93rd in 2007. Mexico’s gender gap score improved throughout the five year period.

Notable countries close to Mexico’s ranking, in the group ranked 80 to 90, are Italy (80), Hungary (81), Greece (82), Bangladesh (86) and Chile (87).

The top ten in the list (smallest gender gap) are the five Scandinavian countries, along with Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Nicaragua and Switzerland. Canada and the USA are ranked 21st and 22nd. Among Mexico’s chief competitors, Argentina is 32nd, Russia is 59th, Brazil is 62nd, China is 69th, India is 105th and South Korea is 108th. The very bottom of the list is dominated by Islamic and many Sub-Saharan African countries.

The report indicates that Europe (including Canada and USA) ranked the highest, followed by Latin America (and the Caribbean), Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Middle East and North Africa, a rather distant last. Among 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, Mexico ranked a relatively low 20th. Clearly, Mexico has a gender gap problem.

The Gender Gap Index is a composite index. It includes four sub-indexes, which are combined to get an overall score which is used to rank countries:

  • economic participation and opportunity
  • educational attainment
  • health and survival
  • political empowerment

In health and survival Mexico ranks a rather surprising 1st tied with 31 other countries. This means that Mexican females are unsurpassed with respect to sex ratio at birth (female/male) combined with female life expectancy (female/male). This is quite impressive. Perhaps males getting killed in drug and other violent activities helps Mexico’s score on this sub-index. Not surprisingly, China ranked 132nd and India at 134th are right near the very bottom.

On the down side, Mexico is ranked 113th in female economic participation and opportunity, though it has improved significantly. This index covers wage equality as well as proportion of female legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as professional and technical workers. Grouped near Mexico are Chile (110th), El Salvador (112th), Guatemala (114th), and South Korea (116th). Perhaps most telling is that female workers only earn 45% of what males do performing similar work. The percentages are worse in some other countries: Korea (44%), Indonesia (42%), Turkey (30%), India (27%), Pakistan (21%) and Saudi Arabia (17%). Less than a third (31%) of Mexican legislators, senior officials and managers are female, compared to 59% in Jamaica, 43% in the USA, 36% in Canada and Brazil, 23% in Argentina and only 10% in Bangladesh, Turkey and South Korea.

In the educational attainment sub-index Mexico ranks 69th. Its index score was just a fraction higher in 2007, when Mexico was ranked 49th. The report indicates that 98% of appropriately-aged females and 98% of males are enrolled in primary school. It shows that 73% of Mexican females are enrolled in secondary school compared to 70% of males. At the tertiary (college) level the percentage is 28% for both genders. These data seem very impressive, but in many other countries there are far more females enrolled than males; for example, in Uruguay the reports says that females lead male enrollments at the tertiary level by 81% to 47%. Despite Mexico’s rank of 69th, Mexico’s so-called gender gap in education does not appear to be a major concern.

Mexico’s political empowerment score improved significantly since 2011 and its rank went from 63rd to 48th apparently because the number of females in ministerial level positions went from 11% up to 21%. Relatively near Mexico are Canada ranked 38th, Australia (42nd), Colombia (51th), Pakistan 52nd),  Israel (54th), USA (55th) and China (58th). We imagine that the rankings of Canada, Australia, Pakistan and Israel were greatly helped because they have all had a female head of state in the last fifty years.

In conclusion, Mexico is making solid progress in closing its gender gap, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Juchitán, Oaxaca: a town of sexual tolerance

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Juchitán, Oaxaca: a town of sexual tolerance
Oct 182012

More than half (51.3%) of Mexico’s total population of is female. (There are 94.8 men for every 100 women.) However, with isolated exceptions, Mexico has been a male-dominated society for a long time and the spirit of machismo is still very strong in many parts of the country. There is ample evidence for this. For example, Mexico has never had a female head of state and very few female cabinet members have ever been appointed. There have been very few female candidates for president; they include Cecilia Soto González (1994), Dora Patricia Mercado (2006) and Josefina Vázquez Mora (2012). [Thanks go to Manuel and other alert readers for correcting an earlier version]. In business, male executives earn more than their female counterparts, though the wage differential is much smaller for lower-paid positions.

There are also vast differences across the country in the economic and social well-being of women. Some women, such as billionaire María Asunción Aramburuzabala, have proved that Mexican women can be incredibly successful in business, yet tens of thousands of women face a daily struggle against starvation and violence in the home.

The precise roles of women in Mexican society vary greatly from one region to another. The indigenous Zapotec community of Juchitán in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca is at one extreme. It functions as a matriarchal society where women play a much more important role than men in trading and decision-making.

Juchitán is also possibly the most tolerant place in Mexico in terms of attitudes to the gay and transgender community, especially to transvestite men, locally called muxes (pronounced moo-shays).

A 5-minute video, The Third Gender, produced by Deborah Bonello for GlobalPost, explores the extent to which the residents of Juchitán accept cross-dressing muxes as an integral part of society.

Want to read more?

  • Nicola Ókin Frioli. Princesses in a land of Machos (short essay and outstanding photographs by a highly accomplished photographer)
  • Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. 2005 A matriarchal society in the age of globalization: Juchitán/Southern Mexico.  Paper presented at 2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, San Marcos and Austin, Texas. 2005
  • Isabella Tree. The women of Juchitán (Inside Mexico)
  • Marc Lacey. A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico (New York Times)

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The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home

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Aug 042012

A study by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) based on 2010 data calculated that routine work done in the home (almost 80% of the time-value involved by women) is worth about 2.9 trillion pesos to the Mexican economy each year, equivalent to more than 20% of Mexico’s GDP. By way of comparison, manufacturing accounts for 17.2% of GDP, and commerce 15% of GDP.

The INEGI calculation includes the costs in time/labor needed to meet the demands of the home, and the net salary that would be paid for someone undertaking those tasks.

INEGI divides work done in the home into six categories:

  • help and assistance to members of the household. [In market value terms, this is equivalent to 6.9% of GDP]
  • preparation and serving of meals [5% of GDP]
  • cleaning and maintaining the home [3.5% of GDP]
  • shopping and household administration [2.9% of GDP]
  • washing and looking after footwear and clothing [2% of GDP]
  • helping other households and voluntary work [1.6% of GDP]

INEGI’s findings suggest that some aspects of family life and the division of “duties” (such as that common to older images like the one below) are not changing very rapidly.

"La Familia" ("The Family"). School chart of unknown date.

“La Familia” (“The Family”). School chart of unknown date.

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May 102012

Linked to Mother’s Day [10 May in Mexico], Save the Children just published their 13th annual report on the“State of the World’s Mothers”.

The report investigates childhood malnutrition and relates it to the well-being of mothers. The focus is on the first 1,000 days from the time of conception to the child’s second birthday. Proper nutrition and health care during these 1,000 days are critically important to brain development and the welfare of the child throughout its lifetime.

Mother and child in a Mexican market

Mother and child in a Mexican market. Photo: Tony Burton.

For decades, development experts have recognized that health, education and economic opportunity of mothers are crucially important to the quality of life of their children. Mothers’ level of education is often the most important factor.

The impacts last for numerous generations. Not only do the children of more educated mothers do better, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren also do better. On the other hand, malnourishment during the first 1,000 days is linked to low education and economic opportunity for the child. It can result in daughters getting pregnant earlier and having less healthy children. This vicious circle can continue for generations.

How does Mexico stack up with other major countries around the world? The results for Mexico are a bit mixed. From 1990 to 2010 Mexico recorded an impressive decrease in malnutrition of 3.1% per year. (The measure of malnutrition used in this comparison was children too short for their age, “stunting”). Mexico has cut malnutrition almost in half (47%) since 1990. This decrease ranks it 11th among the 165 countries analyzed. Much of this progress is associated with Mexico’s Oportunidades Program. The ten countries that did better than Mexico include China (6.3%), Brazil (5.5%), and Vietnam (4.3%). Fifteen countries suffered increases in malnutrition during the 20 year period, including Somalia (6.3%/year), Afghanistan (1.6%/year) and Yemen (1.0%/year).

On the other hand, the study points out that, given its level of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, Mexico’s level of malnutrition is higher than it should be. Other under-performers include the USA, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Guatemala, Peru, South Africa and Venezuela. These countries tend to have very inequitable distributions of income. Surprisingly, Brazil, with one of the worst levels of income inequality, was among the group of countries with lower malnutrition than expected given their GDP per capita. Other over-performers include Chile, Ukraine, China and Vietnam. Obviously, in all countries malnutrition is much worse among the poor.

The study divides the 165 countries into the three Tiers used by the United Nations. The Tiers are labeled I-“more developed”, II – “less developed” and III – “least developed”. Tier I is limited to Japan and European countries. Mexico is one of 80 countries in Tier II (“less developed” countries).

The UN has a “Women’s Health Index” for Tier II, comprised of lifetime risk of maternal death, percent of women using modern contraception, percent of births attended skilled attendant, and female life expectancy at birth. Within this group, Mexico ranks 19th in “Mother’s (Health) Index” compared to Cuba (ranked 1st), Argentina (4th), Brazil (12th), China (14th), South Africa (33rd), Turkey (47th), Iran (50th), Philippines (52nd), Indonesia (59th), Saudi Arabia (63rd), Egypt (65th), Guatemala (68th), India (76th), Pakistan 78th) and Nigeria (80th).

The differences between ranks appear to overstate the real differences. For example, the scores on the individual variables for Mexico (19th) and Argentina (4th) are relatively close. The chance of maternal birth-related death is one in 500 for Mexico versus 600 in Argentina. In Mexico 95% of births are attended by a trained worker compared to 98% in Argentina. Two thirds (67%) of Mexican women use modern contraception methods compared to 64% in Argentina. Life expectancy for women is 80 years in both countries.

The UN “Children’s Health Index” for Tier II is comprised of under age five mortality rate, percent of children under 5 moderately or severely underweight for age, gross primary enrollment ratio, gross secondary enrollment ratio and percent of population with access to safe drinking water.

Mexico ranks 18th among Tier II countries in terms of “Children’s (Health) Index” compared to Cyprus (1st), South Korea (2nd), Brazil (7th), Argentina (8th), Turkey (10th), Egypt (21st), Iran (26th), China (34th), South Africa (56th), Guatemala (63rd), Philippines (64th), Indonesia (70th), Pakistan (76th), India (77th) and Nigeria (82th). Here again, the differences between ranks appear to overstate the real differences.

While Mexico has made impressive progress concerning mother’s and baby’s health, it still lags behind Argentina and Brazil not to mention virtually all European countries. The biggest concern is rural areas of Mexico, especially southern Mexico, which seriously trail urban Mexico in terms women’s and child’s health. For example, infant mortality rates are highest in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, followed by Veracruz, Hidalgo and Puebla. On the bright side, rural areas are making great progress thanks to programs like Oportunidades.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Review of Jeffrey M. Pilcher’s “¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity”

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Jun 022011

Are you interested in the geography of Mexico’s regional cuisines or the historical relationships between food preparation methods and gender roles in Mexican society? If so, add ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity by Jeffrey Pilcher to your “Books Wanted” list.

Pilcher’s lively and entertaining account analyzes how the history of food in Mexico has been intimately tied to the country’s evolving national identity. The connections have become widely recognized, so much so that UNESCO recently conferred Intangible Cultural Heritage status on traditional Mexican cuisine, especially that of the state of Michoacán.

Pilcher cover of Que Vivan Los TamalesIn every chapter, Pilcher delves into the details. He explains how Mexico’s elites strongly preferred dishes based on wheat (first introduced into Mexico by early colonists) to those based on corn, one of Mexico’s many contributions to world cuisine. Indeed, they went so far as to argue that, across the globe, societies based on corn or rice would never rise above those based on wheat.

True appreciation of Mexico’s indigenous foods developed only slowly, mirroring the gradual development of nationalism, before coming to be considered a key component of the national identity. The advent of the railways in the 19th century allowed exotic foodstuffs to be marketed throughout the country for the first time. National cookbooks began to appear, highlighting the distinctive dishes of different regions, a trend continued to the present-day.

Technological developments have brought many changes. With industrialization, the time-consuming preparation of traditional corn tortillas was gradually superseded, especially in urban environments, by machine-made tortillas, whose taste is considered by connoisseurs to be greatly inferior to that of their hand-made equivalents, now increasingly restricted to relatively remote rural areas. Each step in the industrialization of tortillas brought massive social changes. Traditionally, the production of tortillas was the preserve of womenfolk, one of their numerous daily household chores. When mechanized tortilla presses were introduced, the making of tortillas quickly became an acceptable occupation for men. Freedom from the arduous work involved in making tortillas daily from scratch allowed women time to pursue other activities and to enter the formal workforce.

Gender, race, social class, dietary preferences, the fusion of indigenous cuisine and techniques with ingredients and methods imported from Europe and elsewhere… all are explored in this fascinating book.

Mexico’s cuisine is justly famous for its extraordinary regional variety; in just a few decades, the essential ingredients for Mexican food have become global commodities, appearing on supermarket shelves in dozens of countries around the world. Pilcher’s book puts this success in context, making it an essential read for anyone interested in the geography and history of Mexican cuisine.

Details (link is to amazon.com): ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity by Jeffrey M. Pilcher (University of New Mexico Press, 1998).

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For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexcan food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect. ¡Buen provecho!

Are Mexican females overtaking males in literacy?

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May 142011

For at least the last century, literacy for Mexican males has been significantly higher than that for females. According to the 2010 census 93.7% of Mexican males aged 15 and over were literate compared to only 91.1% of females. Males have higher literacy levels in all 32 Mexican states except for Sinaloa (males – 94.1%, females – 94.7%) and Sonora (males – 96.2% and females – 96.3%). We introduced the spatial aspects of literacy in Mexico in an earlier post:

The greatest gaps between literacy among males and females are in states with relatively low literacy levels (Pearson correlation = 0.89). For example, in Chiapas male literacy is 86.0% while that for females is only 77.5% for a difference of 8.5%. Other states with large gaps are Oaxaca (87.3% – 79.4%, gap of 7.9%), Guerrero (85.4% – 79.8%, gap of 5.6%), and Puebla (91.7% – 86.8%, gap of 4.9%). The data suggest that as literacy levels in states increase, the gap between males and females should decline.

Will the gap between male and female literacy levels decline in the decades ahead? Date from the 2010 census indicates that both illiteracy rates and the gap between males and females are far greater for older Mexicans. For those over age 75, male literacy is 71.2% while that for females is only 62.3% resulting in a gap of 8.9%. The gap is 8.4% for those between 60 and 74 years of age (83.3% versus 74.9%) and 4.4% for the 45 – 59 age group (93.1 versus 88.7%). The gap for those between 30 and 44 years of age is only 1.1% (96.4% versus 95.3%) and for the 15 to 29 age group, males and females are equal at 98.1%.

Does this trend suggest that female literacy will surpass male literacy in the future? The answer to this question appears to be yes. Data from the 2010 census on children between ages six and 15 indicates female literacy (87.32%) is already 1.33% higher than male literacy (85.98%). These levels seem rather low because literacy levels for children below age ten, particularly males, are generally lower. For example, among children age seven, literacy for females is 3.06% higher than that for males (73.91% versus 70.85%). That nearly 30% of seven-year-olds are illiterate suggests a problem; but most of these will become literate by age 15. Among children between age 14 and 15, female literacy is 98.40% compared to 98.09% for males.

The census provides data on the literacy of children for each age between age six and 15 for all 32 Mexican states. Literacy rates for female children are higher than those for males in all 288 observations (9 age groups times 32 states), expect for five (ages 11, 12, 13 & 14 in Chiapas and age 12 in Tlaxcala).

The largest gap between females and males is 4.6% for six-year-olds in Zacatecas (females – 43.51%, males – 38.91%). Other large gaps exist for seven-year-olds in Zacatecas (4.41%), six-year-olds in Querétaro (4.37%), seven-year-olds in Tamaulipas (4.34%), and seven-year-olds in Tabasco (4.33%). These findings are consistent with other evidence indicating that females develop language skills at younger ages than males. The data clearly indicate that female literacy is surpassing male literacy. Perhaps more importantly, both males and females are now approaching universal literacy.

We assume that the literacy gap between female and male children will continue in future decades. After a decade or two, we expect adult literacy rates for females to catch and surpass those for males. On the other hand, this gap will be very small because Mexico is quickly approaching universal literacy. When data become available we will analyze the gap in total years of education between females and males. We expect the situation in Mexico to move slowly towards the pattern in the USA, where females now have more years of education and more university degrees than males.

Literacy rates are, of course, only one of the many aspects of gender inequality in Mexico.