Most of Mexico’s indigenous population lives in small, isolated rural localities with under 500 inhabitants. These communities are very disadvantaged compared with other Mexican communities. About one-third of the nation’s 2442 municipalities are indigenous. However, almost half of all the municipalities defined by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) as “highly marginalized” are indigenous, as are a whopping 82% of the “very highly marginalized” municipalities.
The incidence of extreme poverty is much higher in indigenous municipalities than in non-indigenous municipalities. Indigenous villages are among the nation’s poorest rural communities. Indigenous language speakers trail behind other Mexicans in virtually every socioeconomic indicator. About 33% are illiterate, compared to the national rate of only 9.5%. Most leave school prematurely to help their families earn a living.
Indigenous females get a year’s less schooling than indigenous males. They suffer from poor nutrition and their fertility rate is 40% higher than the national average, but 5% of indigenous infants die before reaching their first birthday. About 85% of indigenous household are below the Mexican poverty line and over half live in “extreme poverty”. Over one third of houses lack electricity and over half lack piped water. There is no question. Indigenous peoples have a far lower standard of living than other Mexicans.
Despite their extreme poverty, indigenous communities have managed to remain remarkably stable while collectively pursuing their relatively well organized survival strategies. Their belief systems and rich knowledge of nature remain largely intact. Over 90% of indigenous peoples own their homes and farm plots.
Mexico’s indigenous groups are the subject of chapter 10 of of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico; variations in the quality of life within Mexico are analyzed in chapter 29.