Apr 302011

The quality of housing in Mexico has improved significantly in the past two decades. By the 2010 census, 97.8% of Mexican households had access to electricity, compared to 95.0% in 2000 and 87.5% in 1990. That this figure is approaching 100% is a real accomplishment given that many Mexicans live in very isolated mountainous communities. As of mid-2010, 93.5% of rural households had electricity, compared 98.2% for towns between 2,500 and 15,000 and over 99% for larger towns and cities. Anyone who has lived without electricity knows what an incredible improvement it can make to one’s comfort and quality of life.

With smaller family sizes, household crowding has also declined. It went from 5.0 persons per household in 1990 to 4.4 in 2000 and 3.9 in 2010. The percentage of households with dirt floors is now down to 6.2%, compared to 13.2% in 2000 and 19.5% in 1990. In rural areas, 15.1% of houses have dirt floors compared to 7.7% in towns between 2,500 and 15,000.

The vast majority of rural houses now have piped water. In the 125 least developed municipalities in rural Mexico, over 63% of households have piped water, which is one of the most important factors for improved family health. Almost 39% of the households in these poor municipalities have sewers, a convenience that most rural residents now have. However, about half of all rural households still cook with firewood or charcoal.

Rural households are gaining increasing access to modern electrical conveniences. Almost 80% now have a television set, 62% have a refrigerator, 42% have a washing machine, and 36% have a cell phone (only 17 % have a wired telephone line). While these percentages are significantly higher in urban areas (TVs – 97.5%, refrigerators – 91.7%, washing machines – 78.4%, and cell phones – 78.4%.), life in rural Mexico is improving dramatically. However, rural areas are lagging significantly in access to the cyber-age. Only 6.8% have a computer in the house and 2.5% have internet access. Urban access is much higher: 42.7% for home computers and 33.1% for internet access. On the other hand, many rural households gain access to computers and the internet by using cyber-cafes, which have spread rapidly into small Mexican communities.

Local "bus" to the train station, Tehuantepec, 1985

Local "taxi" to the train station, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, 1985. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Access to public transportation has also improved in rural areas (see photo, taken in 1985). In mid-2010, 73% of rural residents had access to public transportation (usually bus or taxi). Access varies with community size. Of those in communities of 1,000 to 2,500, almost 90% have access, while only 37% of those localities of under 250 population had access to public transportation.

Mexico’s cities and towns are analyzed in chapters 21, 22 and 23 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Rural Mexico is the subject of chapter 24. Living standards, including housing, are discussed in chapter 28. Buy your copy today!!

Apr 282011

Literacy levels in Mexico among those over age 15 have increased rather steadily for more than a century, reaching 93.1% in 2010. The Federal District had the highest literacy level, 97.9%, while the lowest levels were in Chiapas, 82.2%; Guerrero, 83.3% and Oaxaca, 83.7%. The gap between the Federal District and Chiapas is quite large at 15.7 percentage points (97.9% – 82.2%). In the decades ahead, do we expect this gap to decline or increase?

To address this question, we can look at the 2010 census which provides data on literacy levels for children aged six to 14 for all 32 states. To compare literacy among states, we can use the data on 14-year-olds, who have higher literacy levels than the younger children. Among 14-year-olds, the Federal District has the highest literacy level at 98.89%. States with the lowest levels are Chiapas, 96.27%; Guerrero, 96.86%; Oaxaca, 97.75%; and Michoacán, 97.79%. The gap between the highest and lowest is only 2.62 percentage points. This gap is far less than the gap of 15.7 percentage points in literacy for those over age 15 discussed earlier.

These data indicate two things:

  • The literacy gap between states is closing and closing rather quickly.
  • Mexico is approaching universal literacy.

A more thorough analysis of geographical literacy gaps would include rural–urban comparisons and levels of literacy for adults and children in various sized communities. In general, literacy rates in Mexico tend to be correlated with community size; they are highest in the large cities, and lowest in rural areas. We will undertake this type of analysis when the appropriate data from the 2010 census become available.

Related post: Females, males and gender inequality in Mexico

2010 Census data show a significant improvement in Mexican education

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Apr 192011

Mexicans over age 15 are now getting 8.6 years of schooling on average, compared to only 7.5 years in 2000 and 6.5 years in 1990. The increase of over a year in the past decade is impressive. While males are still getting more education than females, the gap is closing. Males got 8.8 years of education in 2010 while females got 8.5 years. However, female education has increased by 1.3 years since 2000 compared to 1.1 years for males.

Not surprisingly, educational attainment is not equally distributed among Mexico’s 32 states. The Federal District has the highest level with 10.5 years, followed by Nuevo León with 9.8, Coahuila with 9.5, and Baja California Sur and Sonora both with 9.4. At the other end, Chiapas was lowest with an average of 6.7 years. Other states at this end are Oaxaca with 6.9, Guerrero with 7.3, and Michoacán with 7.4 years.

If we look at Mexico’s 2,442 municipalities, the inequality is even greater. Urban areas tend to have significantly higher education levels than rural areas. The municipalities with the highest levels are Benito Juárez, D.F. with 13.9 years, followed by San Pedro Garza García, N.L. (12.3), Miguel Hidalgo, D.F. (12.3), San Sebastian Tutla, Oax. (12.1), and Coyoacán, D.F. (12.1). By comparison, average educational attainment in the USA and Canada are 12.0 and 11.6 years respectively. It is interesting that two of the municipalities in the top ten for average level of education are in Oaxaca, a state with one of the lowest overall levels of education.

At the bottom end, the municipality with the lowest average level of education is Cochoapa el Grande in Guerrero with 2.3 years, followed by Coicoyán de las Flores, Oax. (2.5), San Martin Peras, Oax. (2.8) and Mixtla de Altamirano, Ver. (2.9). All the lowest ten in terms of educational attainment are predominantly indigenous municipalities.

Though municipalities lagging in educational attainment still have a long way to go, they are making very impressive progress. In the least developed 125 municipalities in Mexico, school attendance for children between 6 and 15 years of age is an impressive 88%. The percentage for the most developed 125 municipalities is 96%. The figures indicate that in the next few decades the gap in adult educational attainment between the highest and lowest municipalities should decline very significantly.

The most competitive states in Mexico

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Dec 192010

According to a recent report released by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Instituto Mexicana para la Competitividad, IMCO), the five most competitive states in Mexico are:

  • Federal District (Mexico D.F.)
  • Nuevo León
  • Querétaro
  • Coahuila
  • Aguascalientes

These five states account for:

  • 65% of foreign direct investment (FDI)
  • 53% of patents
  • 49% of researchers
  • 31% of major corporations
  • 29% of national GDP

By comparison, the five least competitive states—the states of Mexico, Tabasco, Guerrero, Chiapas, Oaxaca— account for 4% of foreign direct investment (FDI), 9% of patents, 9% of researchers, 14% of major corporations and 17% of national GDP.

A national map and summary of the methodology behind these rankings is provided in an earlier post:

For full details of the study:

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, which will still arrive in time for Christmas…

Dec 122010

The map below shows the average number of inhabitants per household (“household size”) for each of Mexico’s states.

The national average household size is 3.9 persons. The middle band on the map shows those states with household size between 3.7 and 4.0 inclusive. The darkest shade shows states with a household size of 4.1 or greater; the lightest shade shows those with a household size of 3.6 or smaller.

Average household size in Mexico, 2010

Average household size in Mexico, 2010. Cartography: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Discussion questions:

  • Compare this map with the maps of:
  1. potable water,
  2. GDP/person
  3. infant mortality
  • Discuss the possible reasons for any connections you note between household size, potable water, GDP/person and infant mortality.
  • What other factors might also affect household sizes?
  • What are the drawbacks to using any of these measures (household size, potable water, GDP/person, infant mortality) on their own as a development indicator?

Development indices of various kinds are discussed in chapters 29 and 30 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your local library to purchase a copy today!

Which states in Mexico are the most competitive in business terms?

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Nov 012010

A recent report from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, IMCO) provides some interesting insights into which areas of Mexico are “most competitive” in business terms. The latest report relies on 2008 data. The IMCO Competitiveness figures are usually compiled for a major urban area or a state, and international comparisons are also possible at the country level. For example, IMCO found that Mexico ranks 31st in the world for competitiveness, immediately behind Brazil, but ahead of China (rank 38). Mexico’s basic pattern of competitiveness at the state level is shown in the map.

IMCO defines competitiveness as the capacity to attract and retain investment and talent. This suggests a business environment that maximizes the socio-economic potential of both the business entities and individuals residing in a a specific area. It also suggests that any improved well-being (economic and social) will be maintained (sustained).

Map of competitiveness in Mexico, 2008

Competitiveness in Mexico, 2008. Map: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

The IMCO index of competitiveness is based on 120 key variables, grouped into 10 major factors affecting competitiveness. All the variables must be ones which are regularly updated and easy to interpret, with transparent methods of calculation. The 10 major factors include the reliability and objectivity of the legal system, the sustainable management of the natural environment, the stability of macroeconomic policies, the degree to which society is non-divisive, educated and healthy, and the stability and functioning of the political system.

  • Using the map above, how would you describe the pattern of competitiveness in Mexico? (north/south? coastal/inland?, proximity to the USA?)
  • Does the pattern of competitiveness match the pattern of GDP/capita? In what way is the State of Mexico an anomaly in this regard? Are there other anomalies?

A full analysis of why some states are more competitive than others is beyond the scope of this post. However, given its relevance to geographers, we will examine the specific variables that make up the sustainable management of the natural environment in a future post, when we will also take a look at the trends for that indicator.

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…

Jul 082010

Mexico City’s inner city slums date from the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1877–1910) which stimulated rapid railroad expansion and industrialization north and northwest of the city center. The industrial zone expanded out along the rail lines into the areas now known as Azcapotzalco and Gustavo A. Madero.

Typical vecindad, Mexico CityWith this expansion, the upper classes sold or abandoned their inner city colonial mansions and moved further west, deliberately avoiding noisy and polluted industrial areas. Their abandoned multi-storied mansions were converted into vecindades, cheap tenements with individual rooms rented to families.

Vecindades, with a shared central court, kitchen and latrines, became Mexico City’s first slums. They encircled the center on the north, east and south; the west side remained upscale. As these eventually became overcrowded, incoming migrants moved into cheap, undesirable housing in the industrial zone or on the urban periphery.

Vecindad, Mexico CityRapid industrialization after World War II brought another massive wave of poor immigrants. They initially headed for the low rent vecindades which had expanded as developers built new tenements using the old vecindades as a model.

Following government-mandated rent control, many investors abandoned the vecindades, depleting an already poor housing stock. Affordable housing emerged as a paramount concern of low-income residents; most were forced into colonias populares either on very steep hillsides or the urban periphery, such as Nezahualcoyotl.

While vecindades are most closely associated with Mexico City, they also emerged in Mexico’s other large cities. About ten percent of Mexico City’s current residents live in vecindades.

Mexico’s cities and towns are analyzed in chapters 21, 22 and 23 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today!!

Nezahualcoyotl, an irregular settlement which grew into a monster

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Jul 022010

Rapid industrialization north of Mexico City after World War II brought a giant wave of immigrants aggravating a serious shortage of low income housing. With the vecindades (inner city slums) severely overcrowded, the only alternative was “irregular housing” or “colonias populares.” These were developed wherever there was vacant land, mostly in the west and north of the city on the dry former lakebed or on very steep slopes. They all followed a development pattern roughly similar to that of Nezahualcoyotl, the largest and best known colonia popular.

The densely packed housing of Nezahaulcoyotl in all its glory

The densely packed housing of Nezahaulcoyotl in all its glory. Image: imagenesaereasdemexico.com. Follow link at end of post for more Mexico City photos

In the late 1950s, a group of speculators gained de facto possession of roughly 78 square kilometers  (30 square miles) of former lakebed in Nezahualcoyotl just east of the Mexico City airport. They sold nearly 200,000 plots cheaply and on credit, a few dollars down, and a few dollars a month, for 10-20 yrs.

Families bought plots and immediately started to erect shacks. Aside from electricity, which was provided by the national utility, the plots initially lacked basic services such as potable water, sewerage, flood drainage, pavement, schools, etc. Without services, Nezahualcoyotl was illegal under State of Mexico law; but the government tolerated this situation.

The community became an immediate boom town. By 1970, the population was over 600,000, but still over half the area was without paved streets, water supply and drainage. Summer brought floods while the rest of the year it was an arid dust bowl.

Residents became frustrated with the broken promises of the developers, demanded that they be jailed for fraud, and stopped their monthly payments. The feud lasted for years and some developers were actually jailed. Eventually most of the area was “regularized”, meaning that residents got legal deeds and basic services. They continued to improve their houses and communities.

Nezahualcoyotl, the city of dreams

Nezahualcoyotl, the city of dreams

By 1980, the population reached about 1.3 million, making it one of the largest and most densely populated municipalities in the country.

By 2000, Nezahualcoyotl had essentially joined the mainstream. Nearly all residents had electricity and TVs, over 80% had refrigerators, 60% had telephones, nearly one in three had access to an automobile, and almost one in five had a computer. While Nezahualcoyotl has slums, gangs and crime, it also has tree-lined boulevards, parks, a zoo, banks, shopping centers, offices, libraries, hospitals, universities, cinemas, and apartment buildings. It even has a cathedral (since 2000) and an Olympic sports stadium, which hosted some 1986 FIFA World Cup matches. Currently, it is a vital part of metropolitan Mexico City and provides jobs for almost 250,000.

From irregular settlement to massive urban monster; Cd. Nezahualcoyotl has certainly come a long way!

Mexico’s cities and towns are analyzed in chapters 21, 22 and 23 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today!!

Jun 292010

With very rapid growth in the mid-20th century, inner city urban slums could not absorb all the new low income immigrants. The only viable option was so-called “irregular” housing or colonias populares. Irregular housing schemes were initiated by developers who gained ownership of large tracts of contiguous land on the urban periphery. Some of these tracts were illegally obtained ejido properties. Whether ejido or not, the tracts usually consisted of marginal lands, either prone to seasonal flooding or on very steep hillsides.

A colonia popular in Mexico

One of Mexico's many "colonias populares"

The land was subdivided into numerous small lots and sold on an installment plan to low-income families, who would construct low cost one room shacks which they called “home.” These neighborhoods were called “irregular” because many residents lacked legal deeds to their lots, their houses did not meet building codes, and they usually lacked important urban services.

Investors could not legally sell building lots without services such as water, drainage, paved streets, electricity and other basic infrastructure. However often investors did little more than mark the services on the property maps and provide “paper” services. Lots with actual services were considerably more expensive and beyond the reach of most of the urban poor. In general, local government tolerated these unserviced and illegal developments, because they helped relieve the low income housing crisis.

Street plan of a "colonia popular"

Street plan of a "colonia popular"

Developers could make fortunes with these housing schemes. In a one square kilometer piece of land they could sell up to 10,000 lots (each averaging 100 square meters, or 1076 square feet). At $200 a lot, this brought them $2 million. Developers often reneged on their promises to provide services, though their plans did at least provided vacant strips of land between lots, which became known as “paper streets”.

In the beginning, many “irregular” communities lacked running water, sewers, drainage, electricity, and public transport. However, eventually the needed services were provided and the residents upgraded their houses. After a decade or two, most of these communities became completely “regularized” with water, sewers, drainage, electricity, telephones, cable TV, retail stores, schools, bus routes, medical clinics, offices, and even movie theaters, shopping centers, and office buildings. In most large Mexican cities, roughly half of all current housing started as “colonias populares”.

Mexico’s urban geography is analyzed in chapters 21, 22 and 23 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and read more about the fascinating history and structure of Mexico’s cities.