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MEXICO’S SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

How inequitable is Mexican development and what are the social consequences?

Depending on the measurement used, Mexico's development is considered to be significantly inequitable; development in Latin America as a whole is marked by the greatest degree of inequality in the world. Inequality is typically measured economically, most commonly according to individuals' income levels. The most well-known economic measure is the Gini coefficient. When Mexico is compared with other middle-income economies, it ranks among those with the highest levels of inequality, along with Russia and Estonia. In income inequality, Mexico ranks about the same as the United States on the Gini scale. Some scholars have argued that other measures provide more accurate and subtle measurements of inequality. For example, to what extent is Mexico characterized by inequality in opportunity? Other combined measures of qual- ity-of-life scales have included variables such as access to services like water and health care.

Studies by economists have shown definitively that economic inequality is linked to inequalities in water supply, drainage, and other basic structures such as housing. It also affects access to electricity, but to a lesser extent than other variables. Inequality, no matter how it is measured, affects the geography of poverty. Its effects are much more dramatic in rural than in urban areas. Indeed, the consequences of inequality in Mexico decrease significantly in urban locales. Mexico boasts some of the most developed municipalities in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Report, but at the same time it includes municipalities that are ranked lower than those found in sub-Saharan Africa. The ten lowest-r anking municipalities in a study of more than two thousand municipalities in Mexico were typically found in poor, rural states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero, all of which are located in southern Mexico, a region long viewed as Mexico's poorest, while the north is recognized as the wealthiest region.

In addition to geographic inequities, which have existed for decades, economic inequities are associated with race and ethnicity. The three states just mentioned are among those with the highest percentage of indigenous Mexicans. Not only do indigenous Mexicans earn lower incomes, occupy poorer housing, and have less access to services than nonindigenous Mexicans, but they are less likely to complete elementary school, to be literate, to speak Spanish fluently, and to develop the skills necessary to improve their family's economic situation. For example, 27.2 percent of indigenous Mexicans compared with 5.4 percent of nonindigenous Mexicans are illiterate. Illiteracy rates for indigenous women are even higher, approximately 40 percent. One-rhird of the indigenous population is considered to be functionally illiterate. Inequality also affects trust and political participation. Social capital, the willingness of people to become involved in their societies as active citizens, is linked to social inequality and the low levels of trust in fellow citizens and institutions among those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, as well as less empathy for crime victims. Finally, a recent study by the World Bank based on twenty years of crime statistics and inequality data from more than two thousand municipalities concluded that, from 2005 to 2010, an increment of just a point in the Gini coefficient increased drug-related homicides by ten individuals for each one hundred thousand inhabitants.

 
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