Gender disparities and the value of women’s work in the home

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Gender disparities and the value of women’s work in the home
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.

Related posts:

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.”

Related posts:

The pattern of unemployment in Mexico in 2013

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The pattern of unemployment in Mexico in 2013
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)

 Other  Comments Off on Women’s Migration Networks in Mexico and Beyond (review)
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.

Related posts:

The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home

 Other  Comments Off on The value in Mexico of unpaid work in the home
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.

Related posts:

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”

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Review of Jeffrey M. Pilcher’s “¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity”
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 ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity by Jeffrey M. Pilcher (University of New Mexico Press, 1998).

Related posts:

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?

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Are Mexican females overtaking males in literacy?
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.

More Mexican women entering the workforce and becoming heads of households

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on More Mexican women entering the workforce and becoming heads of households
Apr 302011

The proportion of women in the workforce is increasing each year. By 2010 a full one-third (33.3%) of women were working compared to 29.9% in 2000. According to 2010 census data, the rate of economic participation of women is very closely linked to community size. In urban areas of over 100,000 population over 41% of women work. The percentage is 36% in cities with populations 15,000 to 100,000 and 29% in towns from 2,500 to 15,000. In rural areas, communities of under 2,500 inhabitants, the figure is 17%.

These official census figures do not count all the unpaid work women do in households, on farms and in family-operated enterprises. For this reason, these census figures paint a very inaccurate picture of the contribution that women make to the Mexican economy.

A recent OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report found that Mexicans work an average of 10 hours a day, longer than people in any of other OECD member country. (The average for all OECD members is 8 hours a day.) These figure include both paid and unpaid work such as housework.  The figures show the importance of home and family in Mexico—the report points out that Mexicans also do the most work in the home (3 hours a day), mainly preparing meals. Just how important to the economy is all this unpaid work? The OECD report estimates that the total value of unpaid work is equivalent to a whopping 24% of Mexico’s GDP. Women are responsible for a large proportion of this unpaid but valuable contribution.

The percentage of households headed by women is on the rise. It increased from 20.6% in 2000 to 24.4% in 2010. The pattern among states, however, is not easy to explain. The Federal District leads with 31.4% of households headed by women, but Nuevo León (which is second to the Federal District in most socio-economic characteristics) is at the very bottom with only 19.5% of households headed by females. Other states at the top of the list are Morelos (27.4%), Guerrero (26.9%), Veracruz (26.6%), and Baja California (26.0%). Other states near the bottom are Chiapas (20.2%), Coahuila (20.9%), Zacatecas (21.1%), Aguascalientes (22.4%) and Yucatán (22.4%).

The percentage of households headed by women is influenced by many factors including widowhood, males or females migrating for work, and modernity with more young unmarried females living independently.

The 10 states in Mexico with the lowest male-female ratios

 Other  Comments Off on The 10 states in Mexico with the lowest male-female ratios
Feb 072011

In an earlier post, we looked at the ten states with the highest male-female ratios (ie the most males for every 100 females). This time we turn our attention to the ten states with the lowest male-female ratios (or the most females for every 100 males). Male-female ratios are sometimes referred to as “sex ratios”, though that term does not indicate clearly whether the values are males for every 100 females (the usual interpretation) or females for every 100 males.

States with low male-female ratios

The 10 states with the lowest male-female ratios

Male-female ratios are an important demographic statistic and reflect numerous environmental, economic and social factors. In turn, they influence many aspects of economic and social geography. This Wikipedia entry on Human Sex Ratio offers a general introduction to some of the geography associated with male-female ratios.

The table and map show the 10 states in Mexico with the lowest male-female ratios.

RankStatemale-female ratio (males/100 females)number of females per 100 males
1=Federal District91.8108.9

What do these states have in common?

The short answer would appear to be not very much, apart from forming a band across central Mexico!

The Federal District may offer far more employment opportunities for females than for males. Females who live in other states may be more likely to migrate to Mexico City in search of employment than to attempt the more complicated migration to the USA which has become the preferred option for many young males.

Oaxaca, along with Guanajuato and Michoacán, has a high rate of out-migration. In most situations, demographers consider that males are more more likely to migrate than females. This gender imbalance in migration would leave a low male-female ratio at the place of origin. Out-migration may also explain why Morelos and Tlaxcala, two of the smallest states in Mexico, are on the list.

In conclusion, while male-females ratios are an important population statistic, it is not necessarily always easy to explain them, especially when considering a country as complex as Mexico.

Relevant posts previously published on this blog:

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss population issues, including population growth, distribution, gender differences and density. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

The 10 states in Mexico with the highest male-female ratios

 Other  Comments Off on The 10 states in Mexico with the highest male-female ratios
Jan 312011

Male-female ratios are a useful way of looking at population dynamics. They may reflect, or may influence, many aspects of social and economic geography from employment opportunities to rates and age of civil partnerships (including marriage).

In 2010, only four states in Mexico had more males than females: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora and Quintana Roo (see table).

RankStateMale-Female ratio (males/100 females)
1Baja California Sur104.5
2Quintana Roo103.3
3Baja California101.8
6Nuevo León99.4

States with high male-female ratios

The ten states with the highest male-female ratios (2010)

What do these states, at opposite extremes of the country, have in common?

They are among the most economically dynamic states. All except Sonora have a vibrant tourism sector, where employment opportunities in the construction sector (mainly for young males) have offered young people an alternative to migrating north of the border.

Sonora has a more mixed economy,which includes an important mining sector (another predominantly male source of employment), as well as agriculture, manufacturing and some tourism.

In a future post, and to avoid any accusation of gender bias, we will look at the states which have the highest proportion of females (i.e. the lowest male-female ratios, the lowest number of males/100 females).

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discuss population issues, including population growth, distribution, gender differences and density. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Resistance to government-sponsored change in Chiapas, Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Resistance to government-sponsored change in Chiapas, Mexico
Oct 292010

Kudos to the the New Mexico-based Grassroots Press, for the enticing title “Weaving Webs of Resistance in Chiapas” on an article by Crystal Massey and Rebecca Wiggins. The article reports on a visit to Chiapas earlier this year by a small group from the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection (since renamed Weaving for Justice), which helps weaving cooperatives in Chiapas market their products through fair trade.


One of the groups they visited was Tsobol Antzetik (Women United). They describe how these villagers have to carry fresh water (for cooking, washing, drinking) across the village from near the local school. Despite being in one of the wettest regions of the country, they have no easily accessible potable water source.

Some of the women of Tsobol Antzetik belong to Abejas, a Catholic social justice organization founded in 1992, while others are active supporters of the Zapatistas (EZLN). None of the women accepts handouts from the “corrupt” federal government. This means that they refuse any of the possible benefits from Oportunidades, Mexico’s flagship poverty-fighting program, which helps about 60% of all families in Chiapas. The women believe that Oportunidades “hand outs” are a way for the federal government to control the  rural population, and prefer to avoid being politically compromised.

The article quotes sociologist Molly Talcott, who describes Oportunidades as “…essentially sterilizing women and attempting to contain women’s resistances [sic] by enlisting them in a small cash assistance program, which in these times, is badly needed.” Critics of Oportunidades claim that its health care workers are asked to meet sterilization quotas.

The marketing of woven items from Chiapas is an alternative way for women such as those in Tsobol Antzetik and their families to boost household incomes. This is where the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection comes in. They help market the items in the USA and hope their help will offer an alternative to migration in search of employment to rapidly-growing cities such as Cancún or even into the USA.

The article goes on to examine another much publicized development project aimed at improving the situation in Chiapas, the Mesoamerica Project (formerly known as Plan Puebla Panamá). A side effect of this project has been to force some indigenous people off their traditional land to clear the way for major high-budget, capitalist construction projects.

One of the many strategies bandied about as part of the Mesoamerica Project is the forced relocation of rural Chiapas Indians into what the government calls “sustainable rural cities”, a phrase which suggests a less-than-clear grasp of geography! These would enable easier provision of modern services such as education and health care. In turn, they would “free up” potentially productive land that could then be used for agro-industrial plantations (flowers, tropical fruits, specialist timber, coffee). The major downside of such a proposal would be the demise of an ancient subsistence lifestyle, and an end to the food security previously enjoyed by thousands of Maya families.

Opposition to the Mesoamerica Project has already led to unrest and violent reprisals. It is still far from clear what the eventual outcome of the Mesoamerica Project will be.

Related news: Up to now, Oportunidades has focused almost entirely on rural areas. However, the Interamerican Development Bank recently approved a loan of 800 million dollars to extend the program to marginalized families in urban areas.

To learn more about the evolution of PPP and the idea of “rural cities”, see the three-part article by Dr. Japhy Wilson, who lectures in international politics at the University of Manchester in the UK:

  • The New Phase of the Plan Puebla Panama in Chiapas, Part One
  • Part Two
  • Part Three

Mexico’s indigenous groups, social geography and development issues are analyzed in various chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and learn more about Mexico’s fascinating geography. Additional knowledge will greatly enhance the pleasures you derive during your next trip to Mexico.

Oct 162010

In an earlier post, we looked briefly at Females, males and gender inequality in Mexico.

Gender inequality is unfortunately still alive and well in Mexico. It is often shown through discrimination and human rights violations.

Several women’s empowerment groups aim to change the status quo. Perhaps the most successful to date has been an organization known as Semillas (= seeds). Founded in 1990, Semillas is the shorthand for the NGO Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer, A.C. (Mexican Society Pro-Women’s Rights).

In the words of its homepage, Semillas…

“knows that all the different responsibilities and duties that women have as mothers, caretakers, providers, educators, resource generators, politicians, field workers, business owners, social leaders, scholars, artists, etc… make them the fundamental factors of change in their families, communities, and society at large. Semillas is also aware that strengthening Mexican women’s rights builds a more just society, promotes a new culture of equality between women and men, and improves life conditions for generations to come.”

Semillas group of women

Photo credit:Semillas (Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer, A.C)

Semillas aims to break the traditional gender inequalities in Mexico through sponsorship of dozens of local initiatives, covering a wide range of development objectives. Since 1990, Semillas have started 237 sustainable development projects, benefiting 650,000 women. Projects are based on the principle of “women helping women”. Semillas funds and supports projects run by women who are already exhibiting leadership qualities in their communities.

For example, one project supports the work of a victim of psychological violence who has spent the last 15 years of her life designing programs to ensure equality of educational opportunity in her home community. This educational equality is not limited to formal schooling, but extends to the sports activities available after-school and at weekends. When our daughter was growing up in Mexico, we learned first-hand in the early 1990s that many smaller, traditional villages in Mexico tend to offer a reasonable variety of sports, such as soccer, only for boys. Rarely is anything equivalent on offer for girls. While the situation is gradually improving (girls’ soccer is becoming one popular option!), there is still a long way to go in many places.

Semillas does not only fund projects concerned with educational equality; other projects focus on health care, female working conditions and legal aid.

The Semillas website has many short articles, images and videos highlighting its work, if you are interested in finding out more about this noteworthy NGO. (It also has a link for donations).

Stop Press! By coincidence, today the Inter Press Service news agency published Four Years On, No Justice for Atenco Women (by Daniela Pastrana). In 2002, Atenco was proposed as the site for a new Mexico City airport, leading to protests by local residents. Eventually, (in April 2008) 11 women brought a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, involving allegations of torture, sexual violence and illegal deprivation of freedom, all connected to the protest movement. Their case was supported by many NGOs, as well as several winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the opposition to the new airport was a “legitimate social protest” and ordered the immediate release of those protesters who were still behind bars.

Chapter 29 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is titled “Variations in Quality of Life within Mexico” and discusses many aspects of poverty, including  Gender Inequality. Buy your copy today, or ask your local library to purchase a copy for their collection.

Maternal health in southern Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Maternal health in southern Mexico
Jul 282010

A short piece in The Economist entitled “Maternal Health in Mexico: A perilous journey” (26 June 2010) highlights some of the reasons why maternal mortality has remained stubbornly high in southern Mexico, despite a marked improvement in recent years. Since 1990, maternal mortality (death related to childbearing) has fallen by 36% in Mexico as a whole.

Maternal mortality remains alarmingly high

Carrying the future; maternal mortality remains alarmingly high. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved. Click to enlarge.

Any average figure for the whole country disguises enormous regional differences. Rates for the richer inhabitants in the more developed regions in Mexico are comparable to rate in the USA or Canada. However, rates in the impoverished southern states such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero are up to 70% higher than the national average.

In the words of the Research for Development blog “In 2005 the maternal mortality rate was 63.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. In the state of Guerrero the rate rose to 128 deaths per 100, 000 live births. Both figures are a long way from Mexico’s commitment under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 22.3.” Click here to see how well Mexico is doing in meeting other MDGs.

One study found that in the year 2000, only 44.8% of women in Chiapas gave birth with a doctor present; 49.4% did so with midwives, and the remaining 5.8% were attended by family members or give birth alone.

As The Economist article emphasizes, indigenous women are only one-third as likely to survive giving birth as non-indigenous women.

Why is this? What are the key factors preventing lower maternal mortality rates?

The Economist singles out:

  • means of transport – lack of a car means a total reliance on public transport. Public transport is poor in many remote areas
  • poor roads – many rural roads are unpaved, and the terrain in much of Mexico means than travel times are often much longer than might be expected
  • the expense of the hospital tests and medical supplies which can save a mother’s life
  • errors in delivery care or hospital procedures – according to The Economist, “40% of urban maternal deaths are caused by using the wrong medicine, by botched surgery or by other forms of malpractice.”
  • reluctance to see a male doctor (for social or cultural reasons)
  • language issues – many indigenous women do not speak Spanish at all well, if at all, and very few doctors have any knowledge of indigenous languages, so communication is often poor

What is needed to reduce maternal mortality rates? Understandably, The Economist focuses its attention on financial or economic solutions. More money is needed, it argues, for “midwifes and contraceptives.” It reports that increased funds are coming from a variety of sources, including the Spanish government, Carlos Slim (the Mexican entrepreneur who is the world’s richest man) and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Between them, they have announced plans to spend 150 million dollars “on health care for the poor in Central America and southern Mexico”.

In addition, the article calls for investment in “infrastructure, health and education”, making the claim that investment in these areas would help the south catch up with the rest of the country.

We consider this analysis of possible remedies for the problem to be incomplete. The political will to continue making investments in health care installations and personnel over the long-term requires, in our opinion, a significant shift in attitudes among the wealthier and more influential sectors of Mexican society.

At present most members of the wealthy elite regard indigenous Mexicans as second class citizens.

At the time of the Chiapas uprising in 1994, for example, a subset of well-educated Mexicans called on the government to resolve the problems the nation faced in southern Mexico once and for all by using maximum force to re-establish complete military control over the area. Fortunately, the government of the day did not follow their advice but opted for alternative approaches such as dialogue.

Mexico’s indigenous peoples are rarely shown on TV or in advertisements. Instead, most firms prefer to picture blond, blue-eyed mestizos. Alongside increased financial investment in the south, a massive shift in public perception is required. For everyone’s sake, let us hope that this can be achieved with a minimum of turmoil.

Mexico’s government has to make tough choices about how far the national budget can stretch, and which things should be prioritized. Decisions are often based on political expediency as much as on the nation’s pressing development needs. Indigenous peoples are not well represented in federal government.

At present, the best-trained physicians and nurses aspire to work in the world class medical facilities in Mexico’s major cities. Health care workers in Mexico’s remote areas are often there only to fulfill the social service requirements for their professional qualification; they perform valuable work, but certainly have no long-term commitment to these regions. In the words of a MacArthur Foundation researcher (quoted in “Evaluation of The MacArthur Foundation’s Work in Mexico to Reduce Maternal Mortality, 2002-2008”) , qualified doctors (residents) “see their work as a big favor they do for the community, rather than understanding that indigenous populations in our country also have a right to health.”

We believe that a change in how society perceives indigenous peoples is a fundamental prerequisite for genuine long-term change, particularly in states such as Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s indigenous populations, and the disparities in wealth and opportunity they face, are analyzed in chapters 10 and 29 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your local or university library to buy a copy today!!

Where to find Mexico’s most beautiful señoritas

 Other  Comments Off on Where to find Mexico’s most beautiful señoritas
May 142010

The British-born journalist William English Carson (1870-1940) spent four months in Mexico, in 1908-1909, collecting material for his “Mexico, the Wonderland of the South“, never straying far from the railways. Always an enthusiastic traveler, many of his views about Mexicans will strike modern readers as stereotypical. For example, Carson devoted an entire chapter to “The Mexican Woman“. Many of Carson’s pronouncements read today as outrageous over-generalizations. Select quotes from the chapter include:

  • “no foreigner, unless he be associated with diplomacy, is likely to have any chance of studying and judging the Mexican women”
  • “the Mexican girl has but two things in life to occupy her, love and religion”
  • “As a rule, the Mexican women are not beautiful”.

Miss Mexico 2009

After due analysis, the latter claim can be swiftly disposed of! See, for example, this article on MexConnect.

Want to find out which state in Mexico has the most beautiful young señoritas? In chapter 13 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, we use locational quotients to analyze the geography of beauty pageant winners in Mexico

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect, partly based on chapter 52–“A place of contrasts”–of Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008).

Jan 032010

There are more females than males in Mexico. In fact, there are 94.8 men for every 100 women in the country.

The map below shows gender inequality, using a composite gender inequality index based on the state rankings for three variables: difference in literacy rates between male and females, differences in rates of economic participation and the percentage of municipal leaders who are female. (Data sources are listed below)
map of gender inequality in Mexico
The overall pattern of gender disparity is quite similar to the pattern for female quality of life, but there are some anomalies. Southern states are those where both the quality of life for females and the gender disparities are greatest. However, while females living in the three states comprising the Yucatán peninsula have a comparatively low quality of life, the gender disparities in those states are relatively low. On the other hand, while the quality of life in and around Mexico City is quite high for females, the level of disparities in central Mexico remains considerable.

Gender inequality is not an intangible aspect of life. Figures show that there are significant differences in the median wages of male and female employees in every subsection of the workforce with the exception of skilled technicians where females’ median wages are fractionally higher. For instance, the median wage for female teachers is 91.2% that for men; for professionals, 82.7%; and for industrial supervisors 66.9%… (extract from chapter 29 of Geo-Mexico)

Sources of data for composite index:

Literacy: (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía) 2000 XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda. 2000. Aguascalientes, Mexico: INEGI.

Economic participation: INEGI-STPS 2001 Encuesta Nacional de Empleo, 2001. via [13 April 2009]

Female municipal presidents: INAFED 2002 Resumen nacional de la filiación política de los presidentes municipales de México.
work/resources/LocalContent/9523/1/filiacion.htm.orig [15 April 2009]