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The impact of minimum wages in Mexico and Colombia


  • Bell, Linda A.


There are diverging views about how minimum wages affect labor markets in developing countries. Advocates of minimum wages hold that they redistribute resources in a welfare-enhancing way, and can thus reduce poverty, improve productivity, and foster growth. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that minimum wage interventions result in a misallocation of labor and lead to depressed wages in the very sectors - the rural and informal urban sectors - where most of the poor are found, with the effect of wasting resources and reducing the growth rate. Data from Colombia and Mexico for the 1980s provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of minimum wages. In Mexico in the 1980s, the minimum wage fell in real terms roughly 45 percent. By 1990, Mexico's minimum wage was about 13 percent of the average unskilled manufacturing wage. During the same period, the minimum wage in Colombia increased at nearly the same rate, reaching roughly 53 percent of the average unskilled wage. The author charts how the mandated minimum wage affected the demand for skilled and unskilled labor in both countries during that decade. Findings are as follows. In Mexico, minimum wages have had virtually no effect on wages or employment in the formal sector. The main reason: the minimum wage is not an effective wage for most firms or workers. In the informal sector, in turn, there is considerable noncompliance with the mandated minimum wage, especially among part-time and female workers. As a result, significant numbers of workers are paid at or below minimum wages. In Colombia, minimum wages have a much stronger impact on wages, judging from their proximity to the average wage and both cross-section and time series estimates. The estimates imply that the elasticity of low-paid unskilled employment with respect to minimum wages is in the range of 2 to 12 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Bell, Linda A., 1995. "The impact of minimum wages in Mexico and Colombia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1514, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1514

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Riveros, Luis A. & Paredes, Ricardo, 1988. "Measuring the impact of minimum wage policies on the economy," Policy Research Working Paper Series 101, The World Bank.
    2. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1992. "The Effect of the Minimum Wage on the Fast-Food Industry," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 6-21, October.
    3. David Card, 1992. "Using Regional Variation in Wages to Measure the Effects of the Federal Minimum Wage," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(1), pages 22-37, October.
    4. Alida Castillo Freeman & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Minimum Wages in Puerto Rico: Textbook Case of a Wage Floor?," NBER Working Papers 3759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Fallon, Peter R. & Riveros, Luis A., 1989. "Adjustment and the labor market," Policy Research Working Paper Series 214, The World Bank.
    6. Wachter, Michael L, 1970. "Cyclical Variation in the Interindustry Wage Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 75-84, March.
    7. repec:fth:prinin:300 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:fth:prinin:298 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Martín Rama, 2001. "The Consequences of Doubling the Minimum Wage: The Case of Indonesia," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 54(4), pages 864-881, July.
    2. Stephen Devereux, 2005. "Can minimum wages contribute to poverty reduction in poor countries?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 17(7), pages 899-912.
    3. Funkhouser, Edward, 1998. "The importance of firm wage differentials in explaining hourly earnings variation in the large-scale sector of Guatemala," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 115-131, February.
    4. Adriana Marshall, 1999. "Wage Determination Regimes and Pay Inequality: A comparative study of Latin American countries," International Review of Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(1), pages 23-39.


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