More Mexican women entering the workforce and becoming heads of households

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Mexico City’s pink taxis: are they a good idea?

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Oct 062010

Pink Taxis were introduced a few weeks ago in Mexico City. They are driven by women and carry only female passengers or mothers with small children. The idea is to eliminate the sexual harassment and even violence some women passengers experience from male drivers. Women taxi drivers also suffer these abuses at the hands of male passengers.

In 2009, there were 1300 reported cases of sexual intimidation in Mexico City taxis. Every day between 30 and 35 crimes are committed against drivers or passengers. Some taxi drivers have been implicated in “express kidnappings” which result in the passenger being robbed, being forced into withdrawing the maximum possible cash using their ATM cards, and having their loved ones deliver cash. After a few hours, the passenger is released, unharmed but many pesos poorer.

The idea of special female-only taxis is not new. There have been pink taxis in Puebla since 2009. Furthermore, female-only taxis have been operating in many world cities for years, including: London, The Hague, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Moscow, Cairo, Damascus, Kuwait, Dubai, Tehran, Mumbai, and Dacca. In addition, female-only buses and metro (subway) cars have in operation in Mexico City and other major cities for many years.


The pink taxis in most cities are labeled “Pink Taxi” in English, as well as in the local language. Their very bright “Pepto Bismol” color makes them very conspicuous. The ones in Mexico City are equipped with GPS systems and  “panic buttons” which can alert the police headquarters if there is any emergency. They also come with mounted make-up mirrors. The taxis are mostly used at schools, hospitals, and shopping malls.

There are a variety of opinions concerning these pink taxis. Many women passengers and taxi drivers think they are great; they make them feel much safer. Others think the pink color singles them out as vulnerable targets and could provoke increased sexual harassment or worse. Some men support the idea, especially for their taxi riding spouses and daughters. Other men think they are discriminatory. Government officials feel the new pink taxis support their legislative actions to reduce sexual harassment and domestic violence. Women’s rights and feminist groups generally think they are a move in the wrong direction. They will hinder efforts for full equality and stimulate more gender discrimination.

What is your opinion?

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.

Unemployment in Mexico in 2010

 Maps, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Unemployment in Mexico in 2010
Sep 042010

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 second quarter of 2010 was 47.1 million people, 1.4 million more than for the same period in 2009. This figure represents 59.2% of the total population aged 14 and over. The increase over the past year is due partly to population increase and partly to personal decisions to participate (or not) in the workforce. INEGI statistics show that the under-employed population was 8.9% of all those with jobs. The unemployed population was 2.5 million, 5.3% of the workforce.

Mexico’s workforce is not gender-independent. 78 out of every 100 men are economically active, compared to only 43 of every 100 women. The workforce can be subdivided between primary occupations (5.9 million, 13.2% of the total workforce); secondary occupations (10.6 million, 23.7%) and the tertiary or services sector (27.9 million, 62.4% of  workforce), with the remaining 0.7% undeclared.

Unemployment in Mexico, second quarter of 2010.

Unemployment in Mexico, second quarter of 2010. Cartography: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The map shows the spatial pattern of unemployment in the second quarter of 2010. 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 the states along Mexico’s northern border. 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 on-going economic hard times in the USA have reduced demand for such items. In response, many maquiladora factories have laid off some of their workforce, leading to intense competition for available jobs and a higher rate of unemployment.

Unemployment is also high is Tabasco, a center for Mexico’s oil industry. Here, many people have lost their jobs as Mexico’s oil production has been declining in the past few years. Needless to say, it is not only Pemex workers who have been laid off, it is also workers for the hundreds of firms supplying goods and services to Mexico’s oil giant.

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

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…

Maternal health in southern Mexico

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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

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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]