The Decline in Inequality in Latin America: How Much, Since When and Why

By: Nora Lustig (Department of Economics, Tulane University)
Luis F. Lopez Calva (Poverty in the Latin America and the Caribbean Vicepresidency, World Bank)
Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez (RBLAC-UNDP, Mexico and World Bank)
Between 2000 and 2009, the Gini coefficient declined in 13 of 17 Latin American countries for which comparable data exist. The decline was statistically significant and robust to changes in the time interval, inequality measures and data sources. In depth country studies for Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru suggest that there are two phenomena which underlie this trend: (i) a fall in the premium to skilled labor (as measured by returns to education); and (ii) higher and more progressive government transfers. The fall in the premium to skills results from a combination of supply and demand factors and, in Argentina and, to a lesser extent, in Brazil, from more active labor market policies as well.
Keywords: Income inequality, wage gap, government transfers, Latin America
JEL: O15

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