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Human development and inequality in the 20th Century : the Mercosur countries in a comparative perspective


  • Bértola, Luis
  • Camou, María
  • Maubrigades, Silvana
  • Melgar, Natalia


This article is in line with the United Nations attempts to approach human development in wider terms than per capita GDP, and in line with an ever lively debate on the historical standard of living and on the role of inequality in development. We focus on three Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay) and we view them in comparison with four core countries (France, Germany, USA and UK) along the 20th Century. The paper makes different attempts to construct diverse indices and to change the weights of their different components in order to better explain human development in different periods. A contribution of the paper, so long limited to Uruguay and the USA, is to adjust the historical human development index by inequality measures for all of its components. The results show that Argentine started to diverge, even in human development, at early stages of the 20th Century; that Uruguay diverged from the mid-century and that Brazil continued to tighten the gap up to 1980, diverging afterwards without being able to come close to the levels of the core countries. Total inequality in Uruguay and USA showed similar levels and trends: it decreased until the 1950s, and increased afterwards to similar levels. While inequality affects human development within both countries, it doesn?t help to understand the differences between them, due to the mentioned similarity of the Gini-coefficients.

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  • Bértola, Luis & Camou, María & Maubrigades, Silvana & Melgar, Natalia, 2008. "Human development and inequality in the 20th Century : the Mercosur countries in a comparative perspective," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wp08-06, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
  • Handle: RePEc:cte:whrepe:wp08-06

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker & Tomas J. Philipson & Rodrigo R. Soares, 2005. "The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 277-291, March.
    2. Williamson, Jeffrey G, 1997. "Globalization and Inequality, Past and Present," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 12(2), pages 117-135, August.
    3. Goldin, Claudia, 1998. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 345-374, June.
    4. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James Robinson, 2004. "Institutions as the Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth," NBER Working Papers 10481, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2004. "When did Latin America fall behind? : evidence from long-run international inequality," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wh046604, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
    6. Edwards, Sebastian, 2007. "Crises and Growth: A Latin American Perspective," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(01), pages 19-51, January.
    7. Avner Offer, 2000. "Economic Welfare Measurements and Human Well-Being," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _034, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    8. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
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    11. Ahuja, Vinod & Filmer, Deon, 1995. "Educational attainments in developing countries : new estimates and projections disaggregated by gender," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1489, The World Bank.
    12. Bértola, Luis & Porcile, Gabriel, 2006. "Convergence, trade and industrial policy: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the international economy, 1900–1980," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 24(01), pages 37-67, January.
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    Human development;

    JEL classification:

    • N36 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N56 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N76 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N96 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Q17 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agriculture in International Trade

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