The GINI index: is inequality in Mexico increasing?

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Oct 012011

The GINI index, used to quantify the degree of inequality within a population or country (the higher the value, the more inequality), was introduced in a previous post. In this post we report on the change in GINI index for the member countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). The OECD regularly publishes updated GINI coefficients. Society at a Glance 2011 – OECD Social Indicators includes the following graph which gives a great view of changes in inequality between the mid 1980s and the late 2000s.

GINI coefficients for OECD members
GINI coefficients for OECD members (OECD, 2011) Click image to enlarge

It is no surprise to see that Mexico’s inequality is almost the highest of any OECD member country. However, the right hand side of the graph shows that the increase in inequality in Mexico over the period was actually smaller than the OECD average, and well below the change in the USA, Canada and several European countries. This suggests that Mexico’s economy is becoming increasingly resilient and economic downturns do not necessarily result in raising inequality in Mexico as much as elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how Mexico’s GINI index changes in coming years. High levels of economic inequality remain one of Mexico’s most-pressing issues, and one which will be central to the upcoming 2012 elections.

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Update on Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

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Sep 222011

In a previous post, we looked at Mexico and the UN Millennium Development Goals. This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011:

As part of the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), President Felipe Calderón gave the General Administrator of the Program, Helen Clark, Mexico’s report on the progress achieved in the Millennium Development Goals.

He highlighted the influence of UNDP in Mexico which, throughout its existence, has contributed to the alleviation of poverty and inequality, sustainable human development, the prevention of risks from natural disasters, the implementation of environmental policies and the promotion of democracy.

The main achievements highlighted by the president, regarding the fulfillment of the Millennium Goals, were: achieving universal coverage in primary education, eliminating the education gap between men and women, which eradicated the gender gap in education and increased female empowerment, improvements in the population’s living conditions, through the reduction of mortality and child malnutrition, the sustained increase in life expectancy and specialized care for expectant mothers, the expansion of access to the population’s health services, in which he declared that by the end of this year, universal coverage will be achieved, and the expansion of access to basic services such as safe drinking water, information technologies, communication and decent housing.

The main challenges to be met, said the president, were the alleviation of poverty, improvements in the per capita income and the reduction of the inequality gap. However, he also expressed confidence that they would be fully met in a timely fashion, since he confirmed the fact that the authorities are working continuously to achieve the universalization of pre-school and secondary education, improve the quality of education and improve the Human Development Index through successful programs such as Opportunities and the Popular Insurance Scheme.

The president ended by confirming his commitment to enabling Mexico to fully achieve the values, ideals and agenda set by UN in a timely fashion.

[This post is the text of a press release issued by the President’s Office in September 2011)

The Ethos Foundation’s Multidimensional Poverty Index

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Sep 202011

We looked in a previous post at the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), originally presented in an Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) working paper, and explained its advantages over earlier poverty measures, especially the relatively crude single-factor approaches like “a dollar a day”.

Earlier this year (2011), the Ethos Foundation, a Mexican NGO, presented its own Ethos 2011 Multidimensional Poverty Index, using the expertise of the authors of the MPI as its starting point.

The Ethos Foundation believes that poverty is comprised of both household poverty, an inability to satisfy basic household needs, and by aspects of ambient poverty that make it impossible for people to achieve well-being given the existing political, social and economic conditions. As a result, their index gives a more “Latin American” perspective on poverty.

In applying its Multidimensional Poverty Index to an analysis of poverty in the eight largest economies in Latin America, the Ethos Foundation concluded that Chile is the country with the least poverty, followed by Brazil and Mexico.

Ethos Poverty Index applied to Latin America's largest economies. (Ethos Foundation, 2011)

The graph shows how the 8 countries rated, with the axes of the graph being household poverty and ambient poverty respectively. Overall, Brazil and Mexico are almost equal. While Brazil has less “ambient poverty” than Mexico, Mexico has less “household poverty”. Both countries have a long way to go to reduce poverty levels to match those in Chile.

What factors are included in the Ethos Foundation Poverty Index?

A. Household Poverty:

  1. Income per person (under $60 a day)
  2. Education (head of household uneducated? One child or more aged 7-15 not attending school?)
  3. Provision of drinking water and drainage
  4. Building materials (solid walls? three or more people sleeping in same room?)
  5. Cooking fuel used
  6. Availability of electricity

B. Ambient Poverty (21 variables in 7 categories, but not all equally weighted):

  1. Public Health (life expectancy, infant mortality, public health access)
  2. Institutions (government effectiveness; corruption; political stability)
  3. Economy (unemployment rate; competitiveness; access to micro-loans)
  4. Democracy (civil liberties; political rights and freedom)
  5. Public safety (homicide rate, vehicle theft rate, confidence in police)
  6. Gender (salary parity, educational parity, women in government)
  7. Environment (CO2 emissions/person; species in danger of extinction; rate of deforestation)

The Ethos 2011 Multidimensional Poverty Index is an interesting and valuable addition to the literature on poverty measurement. It is a salutary reminder to geographers that the world is often too complex a place for the same methods of study and quantification to work well everywhere. The great strength of the Ethos Foundation’s index is that it adopts a Latin American viewpoint on poverty, one that is more localized but of far greater relevance to Mexico than previous alternatives.

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The measurement of poverty: the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

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Sep 132011

Measuring poverty sounds easy but is surprisingly difficult. What exactly constitutes poverty? What is “extreme poverty”? Simple poverty measures are often uni-dimensional. For example, many poverty figures quoted in the past were based on the proportion of the population having to survive on less than a dollar a day (later revised upwards to $1.25 a day). Such indices are simple and appealing, but inherently misleading. One of the more serious flaws of such indices (whatever the dollar figure used) is that $30 a month may be sufficient to purchase far more goods and services in some countries than in others. $30 in a European city like Geneva will not go anywhere near as far as $30 in the Mexican city of Oaxaca which in turn will not go anywhere near as far as in a mid-sized Chinese city.

The “Human Poverty Index” (HPI) was a vast improvement, since it combined the proportion of the population facing serious shortfalls in life expectancy, with measures of literacy and of living standards. HPI calculations are based on:

  • the percentage of population expected to die before the age of 40 years
  • the illiteracy rate among adults
  • the standard of living, worked out by combining the percentage of population lacking access to health services, the percentage lacking access to safe water, and the percentage of children under 5 years of age suffering from malnutrition.

Even this multi-criteria approach to defining poverty had its critics, with most arguments centering on which criteria should be included, or on their relative weighting within the index.

Another approach, adopted by Mexico’s National Political and Social Development Commission (Coneval) is (as we saw here) to combine income limits (about three dollars a day in this case) with social indicators in a multidimensional system. People in poverty have incomes below the limit and lack access to at least one of the list of social rights.

In 2010, an alternative multi-dimensional index, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was published. This has quickly gained international acceptance and is rapidly becoming the preferred way of measuring poverty. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was originally presented in an Oxford  Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) working paper by Sabina Alkire and Maria Emma Santos: OPHI WORKING PAPER NO. 38: Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries (July 2010).

The MPI recognizes that poverty is a very complex phenomenon and seeks to identify the “deprivations that batter a person at the same time.” In the original paper, the index was calculated for 104 countries, with a combined population of 5.2 billion. The index consists of ten indicators corresponding to the three dimensions that are used to calculate the widely-used Human Development Index (HDI): Education, Health and Standard of Living. Each of the three dimensions is given equal weighting in the final index. Each of the indicators within each dimension is also given equal weighting.

Multi-dimensional Poverty Index

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) (From Alkire & Santos, 2010)

Dimension One: Health [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Child Mortality: has any child in the family died?
  • Nutrition: Are any adult or children in the family malnourished?

Dimension Two: Education [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Years of Schooling: Have all household members completed 5 years of schooling?
  • Child Enrollment:  Were any school-aged children out of school in years 1 to 8?

Dimension Three: Standard of Living [weighting 1/3 of total] Indicators:

  • Electricity: Does the household lack electricity?
  • Drinking water: Does the household fail to meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, or is it more than 30 minutes walk to water
  • Sanitation: Does the home fail to meet MDG targets, or is the toilet shared?
  • Flooring: Is the floor of the home dirt, sand, or dung?
  • Cooking Fuel: Is cooking fueled by wood, charcoal, or dung?
  • Assets: Does the household own only one or none of the following: radio,TV, telephone, bike, motorbike?

From these values, the MPI can be calculated as the product of two numbers:

  • the percentage of people involved and
  • the “average intensity of deprivation” which reflects the number of dimensions in which households are deprived.

Many of these indicators overlap with indicators used to evaluate the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This means that analyzing MPI should help countries check their progress towards meeting several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while focusing on their most vulnerable people. (For details see the original paper). By looking at the simultaneous deprivations of households, it should help policy makers decide where they need to develop new strategies and where they need to refocus their efforts.

How does Mexico stack up on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)?

Mexico had an MPI rank of 29 out of the 104 countries surveyed (where the #1 rank means the least poverty), with 10.1% of the population deprived in terms of education, 9.2% deprived in terms of health and 6.7% deprived in terms of living standards.

A cautionary note is needed since any index is only as good as the data used in its calculations, but the MPI does seem to be a far more robust measure of poverty and personal deprivation than any of its predecessors.

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Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is an excellent resource for courses in geography, economics, sociology and development studies, designed to be relevant to both general and academic readers. It provides an up-to-date account of Mexico suitable for students taking initial university or college courses related to geography, economics and Mexican or Latin American studies.  Buy your copy today!

Education professionals are invited to contact us if they would like to request a review copy. In addition, the entire book is searchable via the “Look Inside” feature of

Are Mexican females overtaking males in literacy?

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May 142011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trends in income distribution in Mexico: are the poor getting poorer?

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Feb 032011

Many proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which came into effect in 1994 argued that it would stimulate Mexico’s economic development, leading to an increase in employment, and (in due course) higher wages. This would have a beneficial effect for the entire workforce but the effect would be most pronounced among the poorest 20%. It would help reduce the differential between their incomes and those of the middle income earners.

Opponents of NAFTA argued that free trade would have the opposite effect and would lead to a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Which argument is right? Has the gap widened or narrowed?

Research addressing this question reveals the complexity of the issue. Complicating the situation is the economic instability which followed the passage of NAFTA as well as the significant urban–rural and regional inequality that persists in Mexico. Available data suggest that inequality increased during the 1980s and again slightly between 1996 and 1998 but inequality then declined until 2002. This decline appears to have continued. A chart published last year in The Economist (11 September 2010) shows a decline in Mexico’s Gini coefficient (ie a decline in inequality) of almost 1% between 2000 and 2006.

Researchers conclude that the giant gap between rich and poor will not decline naturally as the economy grows, but will require specific policy actions.

The overall impact from the global economic downturn which started in 2008 is not yet clear but past experience suggests that the gap tends to decline during economic hard times. Some economists argue that a trend of a widening gap between rich and poor was already evident in the years prior to NAFTA. If so, this suggests that globalization and Mexico’s support for free trade are not the only factors responsible for the apparently growing disparities of wealth in the country.

Even if the disparities are widening, it does not necessarily mean that the poor are getting poorer. It is perfectly possible that their real incomes (and standards of living) could increase, by say 10%, while those at the top increase by 15%. Both groups would therefore be getting richer, even though the gap between them widened. On the other hand, it is possible that both could be getting poorer, with the gap increasing or declining. Clearly, income data are difficult to analyze and we should be very cautious to avoid making any overly-simplistic statement about the poor getting poorer.

Inequality in wealth in Mexico: the GINI index

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Feb 022011

Several chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico look at inequalities in Mexico. The inequalities considered include inequalities related to physical geography (eg water availability), population dynamics (eg fertility rates), gender (eg. female employment), economics (eg GDP/person), development indices (eg HDI) and the distribution of wealth within the country, or within a subset of the country’s residents, such as those who live in a particular state.

Taking the country as a whole, Mexico has a very unequal distribution of wealth:

In 2005, the per person income for the richest 10% of the population in Mexico was $44,035. This figure is over four times the national average, indicating that per person income in Mexico is very unequally distributed. In fact only two countries—Brazil and South Africa—in the top twenty-five economies are more unequal. The average for all twenty-five countries is about three times the national average. The distribution in Japan and Italy is far more equitable; in both countries, the highest 10% get only about twice the national average. [Geo-Mexico, p 89]

If we want a more precise measure of how unevenly distributed the wealth or income is in a country, it is possible to calculate the country’s Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient, or index, was developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini :

Without going into all the mathematical details, Gini index values range from 0 (perfect equality) to 100 (extreme inequality with all wealth in the hands of a single individual).The Gini index at a national scale usually falls between 25 and 70. It provides a very useful way to compare income inequalities between countries or to analyze trends in income inequality over time.

In general, the Gini index loosely correlates with development, since most developed countries have lower Gini values (usually below 36) than more developing countries where the values often exceed 40. However, there are many notable exceptions. The USA has a Gini index of 45, higher than might be expected, and Bangladesh and Ethiopia both have relatively low Gini values of 33 and 30 respectively.

Mexico’s Gini index of 48 is high, indicating that inequality remains a real issue. Is Mexico’s inequality of wealth increasing or diminishing? There is little evidence that the GINI index has fallen significantly since the 1990s, though we will return to this question in a future post.

One important thing to note is that in Mexico’s case, its informal sector (not reflected in Gini calculations) may serve to ameliorate the degree of income disparities suggested by the Gini figure taken on its own. Some economists suggest that countries with such high Gini indexes need to double their rates of economic growth before they will succeed in reducing their incidence of poverty. [Geo-Mexico 89-90]

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.

Homicide rates are declining in many Mexican states

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Sep 252010

Data from the Mexican National Public Security System (SNSP) indicate that Mexico’s homicide rate has declined by 23% from 37 (homicides per 100,000 population) in 1997 to 29 in 2009. It declined in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.

The states with the homicide rates below 20 and their change since 1997 are shown below. All of the states listed except two experienced impressive declines since 1997. The two exceptions, Yucatán and Nuevo León, had the lowest homicide rates in the country in 1997. The homicide rates in the majority of these states even declined from 2007 to 2009 when the national homicide rate increased by 20%.

StateHomicide rate per 100,000 population, 2009Change, 1997-2009 (%)
Baja California Sur14–59
Nuevo León16+79
Federal District16–25
Querétaro17 –57
San Luis Potosí19–11

Most of these states are not heavily affected by Mexico’s drug war violence. While these states have low homicide rates for Mexico, they are not particularly low from an international perspective.  They are about two times the rate in the USA, but about one quarter of those in Colombia.

Believe it or not, homicide rates in Mexico have actually declined since 1997

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Sep 202010

All the recent media attention to drug war violence suggests that homicide rates in Mexico are increasing rapidly. This is undoubtedly true, but only in certain areas. The available data from the Mexican National Public Security System (SNSP) does not uniformly support the contention that homicide rates are on the rise.

SNSP data show that Mexico’s homicide rate has declined by 23% since 1997. It declined for 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.  According to SNSP, the national homicide rate of 37 per 100,000 population declined by 36% to 24 in 2007, before edging up 20% to 29 in 2009, the most recent year for which data available. However, since 2007 the homicide rate has declined in nine states. Clearly, there are enormous differences in homicide rates among Mexico’s states. A future blog will focus on states with low and declining homicide rates.

The increases in some states since 2007 may well be related to drug war violence. The estimated 28,000 drug war deaths reported in the media is significant compared to the 111,000 homicides in Mexico for the four year period 2006–2009.

The states with homicide rates above 40 in 2009 and which have increased since 2006 are shown in the table. Undoubtedly, drug war violence is an important factor in many of these states, particularly Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacán.

StateHomicide rate per 100,000 population, 2009Increase, 2006–2009 (%)
Quintana Roo52124

International comparisons are difficult due to differences in definitions and in data collection methods. For example, the fatal shooting of an intruder, death committed in self-defense, or death caused by  a drunk driver may count as a homicide in some countries and not in others. In rough terms, data appear to show that homicide rates in Mexico are about four times those in the USA, but less than half of the rates in Colombia or South Africa.