Life expectancy and infant mortality: how does Mexico compare to other countries?

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Nov 032012

How long do Mexicans live? The 20th century brought dramatic increases in longevity. From under 30 years at the beginning of the century it rose to 38 by 1930. From there it went up to 50 by 1950 and reached 62 by 1970. By 2000 it was 72, almost double the 1930 value. Women live longer than men. Life expectancy for Mexican women is about 78; that for men is roughly 73 years. In the future Mexican longevity is expected to increase at about 2.5 years per decade. This is not as rapid as in the past but still significant.

Infant mortality and life expectancy for a range of countries and regions.

Infant mortality and life expectancy for a range of countries and regions, 2010. Fig 28.2 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

It is not easy to find an accurate and reliable indicator of health. One common indicator is infant mortality, the percentage of children who die before their first birthday. This usually provides a reasonable measure of the general quality of health in a society. Mexico has made impressive progress; its infant mortality rate dropped from 7.5% in 1970 to 1.7% by 2005. More improvements are expected in the years ahead.

Mexicans clearly are living longer and healthier lives than they did in past decades. How does Mexico compare to other major countries? Though Mexico trails Canada, the USA and Argentina (see graph), it is slightly ahead of Brazil, China and the weighted average for Latin America. Mexico is significantly ahead of Indonesia, the world average and its southern neighbor Guatemala.

Related posts:

Which Mexican communities have the highest drug war death rates?

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Feb 232012

In a previous post we noted that big Mexican cities with populations of over 500,000 have drug war death rates about 40% higher than the rest of Mexico. However the highest rates of all are in small northern municipalities which have experienced very high levels of drug violence.

Mier, Tamaulipas was the most dangerous municipality in 2011 as it was in 2010. Though the number of drug war deaths in the town of 4,768 (2010) decreased from 93 in 2010 [note 1] to 50 in the first nine months of 2011 [note 2], it still led the country with 1,398 drug war deaths per 100,000/yr [note 3]. This is 91 times the rate for all of Mexico which was 15.3 in 2011 and also over ten times as dangerous as Acapulco, the large city with the highest rate of drug violence. Actually the death rate per population for Mier is probably higher because the mayor estimates that a third of the population may have fled the violence-prone town [note 4]. Mier is only about eight kilometers (five miles) from the Texas border and roughly midway between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. The municipality may be a bit more peaceful now that the Mexican military has occupied the town.

Guerrero, Mier’s immediate neighbor to the northwest with a population of 4,468, ranked second with a death rate of 1,045 or roughly 68 times the average. Both Guerrero and Mier are located between two warring drug cartels, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. Mier’s other neighbor along the Rio Grande, Miguel Alemán, fared somewhat better. Its death rate dropped from 407 in 2010 to 114 in 2011; but its 2011 rate was still over seven times the national average. The data reveal that municipalities along the border between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are among the most dangerous in all of Mexico. Interestingly, the rate for Reynosa itself was only 11 or about 27% below the average.

In third place is San Fernando, also in Tamaulipas, with a death rate of 680, about 44 times the average. This community of 57,220 suffered 292 deaths in 2011. Over half of these deaths were discovered in mass graves of Central Americans who were trying to immigrate to the US, but were kidnapped and murdered by drug cartels.

Next on the list are three small municipalities in Chihuahua – Guadalupe (rate of 496), Gran Morelos (373) and Cusihuiriachi (369). The 2011 death rates in these towns were 24 to 32 times the national average. While the rate for Guadalupe declined 42% since 2010, the rates for Gran Morelos and Cusihuiriachi were up 50% and 150% respectively. As mentioned in an earlier post, the State of Chihuahua had the highest 2011 drug war death rate among Mexico’s 32 states.

Drug war death totals in small communities can change dramatically from year to year. For example, Saric, Sonora with a population of 2,703 had 30 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011. General Bravo, Nuevo Leon had 18 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011 while Yecora, Sonora had 18 deaths in 2010 and only one in 2011. The number in General Treviño, Nuevo León went from 21 down to only two, but it still had the 8th highest rate among Mexico’s municipalities.

On the other hand, drug war deaths in Boca del Rio, Veracruz went from 2 in 2010 to an alarming 94 in 2011. This resulted in a rate increase of 6,167% and a rate six times the average. The rate for Zihuatanejo de Azueta, Guerrero increased by 650%; that of Yurécuaro, Michoacán went up by 452% while that for Cosalá, Sinaloa was up 317%, giving it a rate 13 times the average.

Zihuatanejo de Azueta is different than many of the other communities with very high drug war death rates because it has a rather large population of 104,609 and includes the famous international resort of Ixtapa. The number of drug war deaths in the municipality went from 16 in 2010 to a very disturbing 90 in 2011, giving it a death rate of 115, almost as high as Acapulco’s rate of 134. Certainly, the high drug war death rates in Zihuatanejo and Acapulco have damaged their tourism industries.

Twenty municipalities had drug war death rate in 2011 higher than 100 per 100,000/yr or about seven times the national average (see table). Two of these are the large municipalities of Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco. The 20 communities are spread across six northern and western states: six in Chihuahua, five in Tamaulipas, three in Guerrero, two in Sinaloa and Michoacán, and one each in Sonora and Nuevo León. Before randomly traveling in areas of these states, it would be a good idea to check local media and bulletin boards for indications of recent drug violence.


[1] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. For data see:

[2] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012,

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

[4] Christopher Sherman (AP), “Drug War: Despite army takeover, fear grips Mexican town”, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, Dec 7, 2011.

Jan 122012

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has released data for narco-related homicides for the first nine months of 2011. The data show that 12,903 narco-related deaths occurred in that period. The 2011 figure is 11% higher than the number of narco-related deaths reported for the same nine months in 2010. Even in the absence of data for the last quarter of 2011, we can safely assume that the total number of drug-related deaths in Mexico since the start of the “drug war” in December 2006 now exceeds 50,000.

As we have stressed in previous posts about drug-related violence in Mexico, the data for January-September 2011 show that violence is heavily concentrated in certain parts of the country, with other regions (such as Baja California Sur, Oaxaca and the Yucatán Peninsula including Quintana Roo) remaining untouched.

Narco-violence, January-September 2011

Narco-violence, January-September 2011 (El Universal)

As this graphic (original here) from Mexico daily El Universal shows, eight states (out of 32) accounted for 70% of all the homicides in the first nine months of 2011: Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Durango, Jalisco, State of México, Coahuila.

The ten municipalities with the highest number of homicides were Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Torreón, Monterrey, Culiacán, San Fernando, Durango, Mazatlán, Tijuana and Veracruz.
[* see comment below]

In all cases, it should be remembered that the data are for the total number of homicides and are not homicide rates (i.e. data adjusted for population size).

Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing? Perhaps, but…

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Aug 252011

This question is far more complicated to answer than might initially appear. To start with there are two primary sources of homicide data in Mexico which provide very different results and vary significantly from state to state and year to year.  The National System of Public Security (SNSP) compiles homicide statistics from police reports and investigations.  The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) obtains homicide data from death certificates reported through the Ministry of Health. For 2010, SNSP reported 35,053 homicides in Mexico, while INEGI – Reporta el INEGI más de 24 mil muertes en 2010 – reported 24,374 homicides.

For a very interesting comparison (in Spanish) of trends over time for these two data sources, including a detailed look at the trends in some individual states, see:

For two earlier posts using SNSP data, see:

What factors may explain why the data is so different?

The terminology associated with homicides is very complex. This is equally true in English and Spanish. Even the basic subcategories do not necessarily match closely from the legal system in one country to that in another. Legal definitions and classifications depend in part on subjective decisions by officials concerning such things as the perpetrator’s motive, intent and state of mind.

In general terms, homicide (homicidio) means the deliberate killing of one person by another. A homicide may be either an:

  • intentional homicide or murder (homicidio doloso) or an
  • involuntary homicide, negligent homicide or case of manslaughter (homicidio culposo)

In some jurisdictions, intentional homicides are further divided into such categories as “first degree murder” and “second degree murder”.

The data associated with homicides are at least as complicated as the legal definitions. Statistics originating from police records will never exactly match those coming from death certificates or public records. For instance, some individuals may have been recorded originally as dying from accidents, natural causes or suicide on their death certificates, but then shown later to have been intentionally killed (murdered) and therefore counted in police records as murder victims. There are numerous possible scenarios in which the police data will differ from the data recorded on death certificates.

Differences in terminology, definitions and application may explain some of the differences in the two data sets, but is very unlikely to explain 100% of such significant differences, so care is needed before drawing any conclusions about Mexico’s homicide rate.

What do the figures for homicides suggest?

In 2000, INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics Agency, recorded 10,743 homicides in Mexico. This number dropped gradually to 8,897 in 2007 before jumping up to 14,006 in 2008, 19,803 in 2009 and leaping  23% in 2010 to 24,374. Current information suggests the number of homicides will be at least as high in 2011.

The SNSP data have become significantly higher than INEGI data in recent years. They also show an increase in the number of homicides in 2010 (compared to 2009), but of only 11%.  Both data sets indicate a rapid increase. This is especially troublesome given that murder rates had declined rather steadily up until the “drugs war” started in earnest in 2007.

If we average the INEGI and SNSP numbers, it suggests that the overall 2010 homicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 population.

How does Mexico’s murder (intentional homicide) rate compare to that in other countries?

Wikipedia’s list of intentional homicide (murder) rates claims that Mexico’s murder rate in 2010 was 15 per 100,000. SNSP data for Mexico show 2010 figures of 18 per 100,000. Either of these figures is very high compared to Canada (1.6 per 100,000), Peru (3.2) or the USA (5). On the other hand, Mexico’s homicide rate is rather low compared to Honduras (78), El Salvador (65), Venezuela (48), South Africa (34) and Brazil (25). In 2007, Mexico’s murder rate was about 8.4 per 100,000, very close to the world average.

How many of Mexico’s murders are drug-war related?

Data released last January by the Mexican government indicated that drug-war deaths increased in 2010 by 5,659 from 9,614 to 15,273. These data suggest that 63% of Mexico’s intentional homicides in 2010 were related to drug violence compared to only 49% in 2009, 28% 2007 and roughly 10% in 2006. In fact, non-drug-war-related intentional homicides in Mexico appear to have declined 11% from 10,189 in 2009 to 9,101 in 2010, less than the total number of homicides in any year from 2000 through 2006.

This brings us back to our original question, “Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing?” Yes, they are increasing, but only as a result of the much publicized “war on drugs”. It is likely that if there was no drugs war, then Mexico’s homicide rate would be continuing to decline, consistent with its long-term trend.

Related posts, relying on data issued by the Office of the President of Mexico:

Aug 082011

Durango has long been considered the scorpion capital of Mexico (even the local soccer team became known as Los Alacranes, the Scorpions). At one point in the past, the city paid a bounty for each scorpion killed. Some historical accounts suggest that the scorpion catch rose dramatically, until the local authorities realized that some families had started their own financially lucrative scorpion-breeding programs.

These days, few scorpion stings are reported in Durango, partly because Durango’s scorpion hunters (alacraneros) catch and kill thousands each rainy season; prime specimens are encased in souvenir key rings and wall clocks sold in the local market. They also supply medical research labs.  Research in one lab at the University of California has isolated several peptides that appear to suppress the immune system, promising another way to prevent transplant rejection.

Lourival Possani, and his colleagues at Mexico’s National University (UNAM) have discovered a toxin (named scorpine) in scorpion venom that slows down the growth of malaria parasites in fruit flies; if similar techniques work in malarial mosquitoes, it may be possible to dramatically reduce the spread of malaria.

About 250,000 people in Mexico are stung by scorpions each year—more people than in any other country. Several dozen people die each year. Indeed, for the past 20 years, scorpion stings have been the leading reason in Mexico for  deaths due to adverse reactions and poisoning caused by venomous plants and animals. There are more than 200 different species of scorpions in Mexico, of which only 8, all belonging to the genus Centruroides are a significant public health risk. The map shows the areas defined by Mexico’s Health Secretariat as being of High, Medium and Low risk for dangerous scorpions.

Mortality remains higher in the smallest settlements, and is greatly reduced in mid-sized and large settlements. This is a function of both the reduced proximity of medical care in small settlements and of the higher numbers of scorpions/10,000 people in less urbanized settings. The highest mortality rates by age occur in the 0-1 years group (7 deaths/million), followed by the 1-4 age group (3.8/million) and the 60+ years group (0.8/million) (all data from

Scorpion risk in Mexico

Scorpion risk in Mexico (Secretaria de Salud)

Fortunately, progress is being made. The number of recorded deaths from scorpion stings [1] has fallen from more than 1,000/year in the 1950s to 285 in 1995, about 80 in 2003, and 57 in 2005. This improvement is the result of public health campaigns stressing the importance of seeking emergency treatment and of the development of antivenin serum (known as Alacramyn in Mexico and Anascorp in the USA). Mexico’s antivenin industry, led by the Bioclon Institute, is world class, exporting serum to the USA and Australia as well as throughout Latin America. The biggest threat from scorpions comes from central and northern states in Mexico, including several along the Pacific Coast: Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero.

According to UNAM’s Biomedical Investigation Institute, 277,977 people in Mexico reported scorpion stings in 2010. In the first five and a half months of 2011, 98,818 people in Mexico have been stung. The five states with the highest incidence of reported scorpion stings are: Jalisco (19,995), Guerrero (15,769), Morelos (13,123), Guanajuato (12,326) and Michoacán (10,597).

The incidence of scorpion stings rises sharply in summer when higher temperatures encourage scorpions to leave their lairs and go exploring.

Q. What other factors, besides the ones mentioned in this post, might help explain the pattern of risk shown on the map? Hint – can you think of things that the states shown as “high risk” — or the “low risk” ones — have in common?

– – – – –

[1] A Google search using the terms “scorpion”, “deaths” and “Mexico” finds dozens of websites all claiming that “In Mexico, 1000 deaths from scorpion stings occur per year.” This includes the two highest ranking sites in the results here and here, for articles dated 14 April 2011 and 20 August 2009 respectively. Given that 1000 deaths/year from scorpions has not been true for 20+ years, perhaps it’s time for these sites  to update their data by referring to Geo-Mexico!

Driving in Mexico: is it safe relative to other countries?

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Jul 282011

About 24,000 people were killed last year in traffic accidents in Mexico according to Ángel Martínez, Director of the Mexican Traffic Safety Research Center (Spanish acronym CESVI) . In the USA, the number was about 33,000 in 2010. Does this mean that is safer to drive in Mexico than the USA?

The simple answer is “no” because the USA has three times as many people, about ten times as many registered vehicles, and probably drives over ten times as many vehicle-miles as Mexico. Comparing traffic deaths among countries is relatively complicated because the data are often lacking or not comparable.

A large 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) study indicates that traffic deaths are related to numerous factors. Obviously, the number, age, condition and mix of motor vehicles are very important. Two-wheeled motor vehicles can be more dangerous than automobiles, buses or trucks. Furthermore, road quality, traffic infrastructure, laws, and enforcement are major factors. Many countries do not require use of seat belts, helmets or child seats. The training, skill level and behavior of drivers, as well as pedestrians, are also important. Other factors are alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians, as well as the quality and efficiency of emergency medical teams and health care systems.

50-vehicle pile-up in fog, Saltillo, January 2011

50-vehicle pile-up in fog, Saltillo, January 2011

According to the WHO study, Mexico ranked 12th in the world in total traffic fatalities. China ranked first with 221,000 deaths per year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, USA, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and then Mexico. Total deaths are related to population, number of vehicles and pedestrians, poor traffic control and emergency medical systems, as well as crowded roads shared by everything from trucks, buses, cars and motor bikes to livestock and pedestrians.

Mexico has about 21 traffic deaths per year per 100,000 population. This is a fairer way to compare countries. On this statistic, Mexico does slightly worse than Brazil (18), China (17), India (17), Indonesia (16), and Thailand (20). Though Mexico is slightly better than Peru (22), Venezuela (22), Russia (25), and Pakistan (25), considerable improvement is needed. President Calderón has set as a goal of reducing traffic deaths by 50% by 2020. Mexico is significantly behind some of the other Western Hemisphere countries such as Canada (9), USA (11), Argentina (14), Colombia (17) and even Guatemala (15).

The major countries with the safest traffic are Japan (5), UK (5), Germany (6), and France (8). The least safe countries are mostly in Africa and include Egypt (42), Ethiopia (35), Kenya (34), Nigeria (32), the Congo (32) and South Africa (33).

Wear your seat belt and drive safely!

An in-depth analysis of drug violence in Mexico from the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute

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Mar 222011

The Trans-Border Institute (TBI) at the University of San Diego has published a very informative analysis of drug violence in Mexico which goes into far more depth than our short blog posts. The report is part of the TBI’s Justice in Mexico initiative, which is focused on crime, policing and the legal system in Mexico. The Justice in Mexico website provides public access to several books and working papers, databases and specially-drawn maps, produced by the project’s researchers.

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010, authored by Viridiana Ríos and David Shirk, takes a close look at both the patterns and trends relating to drug violence. The full text of the 21-page report (as a pdf file) is available here.

The report includes numerous maps showing the pattern by municipality for several successive years; when seen in sequence, the shifting focus of drug violence is clearly apparent. A large number of additional maps showing state-level values can be accessed from the Resources on Drug Violence page. These maps use total values for each state, whereas most of the maps and statistics we have included in previous posts (here, here and here) use rates/100,000 people.

Ríos and Shirk balance the bad news about the increase in drug violence in Mexico with their assessment that Mexico’s war against the drug cartels is beginning to show some signs of (limited) success. They point, for example, to the gaps created in the leadership structures of several cartels, due to the capture or killing of high-profile traffickers such as Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental, Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez and Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno.

The TBI report on drug violence includes a brief discussion of some of the  methodological issues connected to alternative and overlapping definitions, and to the various alternative sources of data. In particular, they consider the relative merits of official government figures and those compiled by Reforma, a national daily. Ríos and Shirk acknowledge that the recent provision of more comprehensive statistics by Mexico’s federal authorities represents a major improvement as regards transparency. Interestingly, the figures released by the government in January 2011 are far higher than those compiled by Reforma.

The TBI investigators are not alone in puzzling over the quality of the data for drug-related violence. A recent Spanish-language article elsewhere, by José Merino, compared the number of drug-war deaths recorded in the government figures to the total number of homicides (drug-related or not) in a database managed by INEGI, the National Statistics Institute, based on death certificates in each municipality. Merino identified 105 municipalities (out of 2,456 nationwide) where the total number of drug-related homicides appeared to be higher than the total number of all homicides. The most extreme case in Moreno’s comparison was the discrepancy of 199 homicides in the case of Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa. The INEGI database showed 1,104 homicides in total, while the federal government figure, for drug-related homicides only, was 1,303.

Deaths from war on drugs have increased rapidly since 2006

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Jan 262011

The Mexican Government recently released data on all the deaths in Mexico linked to drug wars for the period December 2006, when the drug wars started, through December 2010. The data include deaths of drug cartel members, law enforcement personnel, and innocent by-standers.  According to the data, 34,612 were killed in Mexico during this four year span, with 2010 being by far the most violent year with 15,273 deaths, 44% of the four year total. The 2010 total was 59% higher than 2009.

The graph below shows how rapidly the number of deaths resulting from the war on drugs has escalated. The crucial question now is, “Will drug war deaths continue to accelerate rapidly in 2011?”

Drug war deaths, 2007-2010

Not surprisingly, Chihuahua, led all other states with 10,135 deaths during the four year period, almost 30% of the total. In 2010 alone 4,427 were killed in Chihuahua, up 32% from 2009. This is a large one year acceleration in violence, but only about half the national increase of 59%. Most of the deaths in Chihuahua were in Ciudad Juarez, with 6,637, and Chihuahua City with 1,415. A later post in this mini-series will investigate drug war deaths in Mexico’s major cities. The map below shows the total number of deaths state-by-state for the period December 2006-December 2010.

Map of total drug war deaths 2007-2010
Map of total drug war deaths, December 2006-December 2010

As can be seen from the map, other states with very large numbers of deaths were Sinaloa (4,387 deaths, up 71% in 2010), Guerrero (2,736, up 29%), and Baja California (2,019 – 1,667 in Tijuana). Next came Durango (1,892 deaths), Michoacán (1,751, down 12%), State of Mexico (1,538), Tamaulipas (1,475), and Sonora, (1,258).

Tamaulipas burst onto the drug war scene in 2010 with 1,209 deaths in 2010 compared to “only” 90 in 2009, an increase of 1243%. The state with the greatest increase was San Luis Potosí which went from 8 deaths in 2009 to 135 in 2010, an increase of 1588%. The figure for 2010 alone was 72% of the four year total. Other states experiencing extremely rapid increases were Nayarit (919%) and Baja California Sur (900%), and Nuevo León (454%).

States with over 1,000 drug war deaths are all located in northern or western Mexico except for the centrally located State of Mexico, and perhaps Guerrero which might be considered a southern state.

At the other end of the spectrum, the states recording the fewest deaths during the four year period were Tlaxcala (13 deaths), Baja California Sur (19), Yucatán (26), Campeche (31) and Querétaro (37). While these were the least affected by drug war violence, the number of deaths in these states was still significant. During 2009 and 2010, Yucatán had only three deaths while Tlaxcala had ten and Baja California Sur had 11.

Related posts about the geography of drug trafficking and drug cartels in Mexico:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses drug trafficking in several chapters.  A text box on page 148 looks at drug trafficking business and efforts to control it.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!