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The recent decline of inequality in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru


  • Luis F. Lopez-Calva

    (UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America)

  • Nora Lustig

    (Tulane University and Center for Global Development)


Between 2000 and 2006, the Gini coefficient declined in 12 of the 17 Latin American countries for which data are available. Why has inequality declined? Have the changes in inequality been driven by market forces such as the demand and supply for labor with different skills? Or have governments become more redistributive than they used to be, and if so, why? This paper attempts to answer these questions by focusing on the determinants of inequality in four countries: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. The analysis suggests that the decline in inequality is accounted for by two main factors: (i) a fall in the earnings gap between skilled and low-skilled workers (through both quantity and price effects); and (ii) more progressive government transfers (monetary and in-kind transfers). Demographic factors, such as a change in the proportion of adults (and working adults) per household, have been equalizing but the magnitude of their contribution has been small by comparison. In Brazil, Mexico and Peru, the fall in earnings gap, in turn, is mainly the result of the expansion of basic education over the last couple of decades, which reduced inequality in attainment and made the returns to education curve less steep. It also results from the petering out of the unequalizing effect of skill-biased technical change in the 1990s associated with the opening up of trade and investment. In Argentina, the decline in earnings inequality seems to be associated with government policies that without the windfall of high commodity prices will be hard to sustain.

Suggested Citation

  • Luis F. Lopez-Calva & Nora Lustig, 2009. "The recent decline of inequality in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru," Working Papers 140, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  • Handle: RePEc:inq:inqwps:ecineq2009-140

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Raymundo M. Campos-Vázquez, 2013. "Why did wage inequality decrease in Mexico after NAFTA?," Economía Mexicana NUEVA ÉPOCA, , vol. 0(2), pages 245-278, July-Dece.
    2. Raymundo M. Campos Vázquez & Andrés Hincapie & Rubén I. Rojas Valdés, 2011. "Family Income Inequality and the Role of Wives Earnings in Mexico: 1988-2010," Serie documentos de trabajo del Centro de Estudios Económicos 2011-07, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos.
    3. repec:aru:wpaper:201304 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Sanchez, Miguel Eduardo & Senderowitsch, Roby, 2012. "The political economy of the middle class in the Dominican Republic : individualization of public goods, lack of institutional trust and weak collective action," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6049, The World Bank.
    5. Francisco Rodriguez & Arjun Jayadev, 2010. "The Declining Labor Share of Income," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2010-36, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

    More about this item


    Income inequality; Latin America; wage gap; government transfers.;

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • J48 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Particular Labor Markets; Public Policy

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