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The slippery slope: explaining the increase in extreme poverty in urban Brazil, 1976-1996


  • Francisco de Hollanda Guimarães Ferreira

    () (Department of Economics PUC-Rio)

  • Ricardo Paes de Barros



Despite tremendous macroeconomic instability, Brazil’s urban income distributions in 1976 and 1996 appear, at first glance, deceptively similar. Mean household income per capita was stagnant, with a minute accumulated growth of 4.3% over the two decades. The Gini coefficient hovered just above 0.59 in both years, and poverty incidence (with respect to a poverty line of R$60/month in 1996 prices) was effectively unchanged at 22%. Yet, behind this apparent stability, a powerful combination of labour market, demographic and educational dynamics were at work, one effect of which was to generate a substantial increase in extreme urban poverty. Using a micro-simulation-based decomposition methodology which endogenizes labour incomes, individual occupational choices and education decisions, we show that the distribution of incomes was being affected, on the one hand, by a decline in average returns to both education and experience, a negative ‘growth’ effect and immiserizing changes in the structure of occupations and labor force participation (all of which tended to increase poverty), and on the other hand by an increase in educational endowments across the distribution, and a progressive reduction in dependency ratios (both of which tended to reduce poverty). The net effect was small (and negative) for overall measured inequality, and negligible for poverty incidence with respect to ‘high’ poverty lines. But it was substantially positive (increasing) for extreme poverty, suggesting the creation of a group of urban households excluded from any labour market, and trapped in indigence.

Suggested Citation

  • Francisco de Hollanda Guimarães Ferreira & Ricardo Paes de Barros, 1999. "The slippery slope: explaining the increase in extreme poverty in urban Brazil, 1976-1996," Textos para discussão 404, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
  • Handle: RePEc:rio:texdis:404

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ricardo Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 1998. "Emerging Market Crises: An Asset Markets Perspective," Working papers 98-18, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    2. Stanley Fischer, 1999. "On the Need for an International Lender of Last Resort," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(4), pages 85-104, Fall.
    3. Douglas W. Diamond & Philip H. Dybvig, 2000. "Bank runs, deposit insurance, and liquidity," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 14-23.
    4. Chang, R. & Velasco, A., 1998. "Financial Crises in Emerging Markets: A Canonical Model," Working Papers 98-21, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
    5. Roberto Chang & Andres Velasco, 1998. "Financial Crises in Emerging Markets," NBER Working Papers 6606, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Rudger Dornbusch & Ilan Goldfajn & Rodrigo O. Valdés, 1995. "Currency Crises and Collapses," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(2), pages 219-294.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andre Portela Souza, 2002. "Wage Inequality Changes in Brazil: Market Forces, Macroeconomic Instability and Labor Market Institutions (1981-1997)," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0215, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    2. Barros, Ricardo Paes de & Ferreira, Francisco, 2000. "Education and income distribution in urban Brazil, 1976-1996," Revista CEPAL, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), August.
    3. Menezes-Filho, Naercio Aquino & Fernandes, Reynaldo & Picchetti, Paulo, 2006. "Rising Human Capital but Constant Inequality: The Education Composition Effect in Brazil," Revista Brasileira de Economia - RBE, FGV/EPGE - Escola Brasileira de Economia e Finanças, Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil), vol. 60(4), February.
    4. Gonzalez-Rozada, Martin & Menendez, Alicia, 2006. "Why Have Urban Poverty and Income Inequality Increased So Much? Argentina, 1991-2001," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(1), pages 109-138, October.
    5. Rodrik, Dani, 2001. "Why is there so much economic insecurity in Latin America?," Revista CEPAL, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), April.
    6. GRIES, Thomas & PALNAU, Irene, 2016. "Distress Beyond Poverty: Spatial Patterns And Geographic Aspects Of Vulnerability In Brazil," Regional and Sectoral Economic Studies, Euro-American Association of Economic Development, vol. 16(2), pages 53-70.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C15 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Statistical Simulation Methods: General
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty


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