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Fifteen years of inequality in Latin America : how have labor markets helped ?

  • Azevedo, Joao Pedro
  • Davalos, Maria Eugenia
  • Diaz-Bonilla, Carolina
  • Atuesta, Bernardo
  • Castaneda, Raul Andres

Household income inequality has declined in Latin America in the past decades, contributing significantly to poverty reduction in the region. Although available evidence shows that changes in the labor income are among the main factors behind these inequality trends, few studies have analyzed more closely the labor market dynamics that have led to a decline in total income inequality in some countries, but also to an increase in others. Using household survey data for a sample of 15 countries in Latin America from 1995 to 2010, this paper uses an extension of the Juhn-Murphy-Pierce methodology to decompose changes in labor income inequality (hourly wages) into a quantity effect (capturing changes in the distribution of workers'skills), price effect (reflecting returns to skills), and unobservables effect (other components, within skill groups, affecting labor income). The results show that falling returns to skills for both education and experience is, on average, driving the decline in labor income inequality in Latin America. The quantity effect, in turn, has contributed little to inequality reduction, mostly attributable to a larger dispersion in years of experience, possibly linked to the region's demographic transition and to significant increases in female labor force participation. Additional findings show that wage inequality, still high in the region, is coupled with inequality in terms of hours worked. The paper complements the existing literature by presenting separate results for males and females, as well as formal and informal sector workers as an attempt to control for secular shifts in these characteristics.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 6384.

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Date of creation: 01 Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:6384
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  1. Knight, J B & Sabot, R H, 1983. "Educational Expansion and the Kuznets Effect," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1132-36, December.
  2. Gasparini, Leonardo & Galiani, Sebastian & Cruces, Guillermo & Acosta, Pablo, 2011. "Educational upgrading and returns to skills in Latin America : evidence from a supply-demand framework, 1990-2010," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5921, The World Bank.
  3. Ravallion, M. & Datt, G., 1991. "Growth and Redistribution Components of Changes in Poverty Measures," Papers 83, World Bank - Living Standards Measurement.
  4. Giovanni Andrea cornia, 2009. "Income Distribution under Latin America’s New Left Regimes," Working Papers - Economics wp2009_16.rdf, Universita' degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Scienze per l'Economia e l'Impresa.
  5. Maxim Pinkovskiy & Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2009. "Parametric Estimations of the World Distribution of Income," NBER Working Papers 15433, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Nora Lustig & Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva & Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez, 2011. "The decline in inequality in Latin America: How much, since when and why," Working Papers 211, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  7. Nancy Birdsall & Nora Lustig & Darryl McLeod, 2011. "Declining Inequality in Latin America: Some Economics, Some Politics," Working Papers 1120, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
  8. Darryl McLeod & Nora Lustig, 2011. "Inequality and poverty under Latin America’s new left regimes," Working Papers 208, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
  9. Azevedo, Joao Pedro & Inchauste, Gabriela & Sanfelice, Viviane, 2013. "Decomposing the recent inequality decline in Latin America," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6715, The World Bank.
  10. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M & Pierce, Brooks, 1993. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 410-42, June.
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