Themes: Overview

What Do We Know?

Profound changes have taken place in Latin America

As well as in several other developing countries and also in Europe - over the last 60 or 70 years.

A huge expansion of education has drastically reduced the inequality in years of schooling

And yet the performance of Latin American students has lagged behind that of other regions

Income has been multiplied by 2.6 since 1960

The relative size of the government has increased by almost two-thirds

The agricultural share of GDP fell by almost two-thirds

The decline of employment in agriculture has been even more dramatic.

The labor force participation of women surged; fertility rates fell

Politically, there was an evolution away from authoritarian regimes to more democratic systems

At the same time, at the moment democracy seems fragile, Populism, changes in the constitution of several countries, sometimes designed to allow some leaders to remain in power, and other issues are worrisome.

Economies opened up to technological change and globalization

Why haven’t these changes been accompanied by substantial reductions in inequality?

The region’s inequality has persisted despite social pressure for its reduction and the conviction that excessive inequality is detrimental to living standards and economic progress.

Deep economic, social, political, and historical roots are among those likely to prevent the region from developing more equitable societies. Which factors determine the persistent inequality in LAC and how is it possible to modify them?


Explore the five themes below:

We hope that understanding the nature, causes and consequences of Latin America’s stable high-inequality equilibrium may provide a basis for action intended to make the region more equitable.
Levels and trends of inequality

Establishing the facts about levels and trends of inequality in outcomes

Inequality of opportunity

Analyzing the role of the family and communities in shaping inequality in outcomes and intergenerational mobility

Inequality and markets

Studying the link between inequality and markets for labor, capital and goods

Taxation and redistribution

Considering the limited role that fiscal redistribution plays in the region to level the playing field

Inequality and political power

Examining how inequality shapes political voice, political representation, social unrest and political outcomes


For more than 70 years now, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have experienced exceptionally high levels of multiple and interconnected inequalities. Inequality in LAC is higher than the rest of the world.


Income in the LAC region has more than doubled since 1960. Yet, inequality is still much higher than that observed in European countries at comparable stages of their development. Inequality in LAC is also higher than in countries that have experienced growth and industrialization more recently, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand.


Hasn’t income inequality in LAC fallen over the last 20 years? Yes, but a striking increase during the 1970s and 80s brought today’s levels of inequality back to those experienced 50-60 years ago.


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