Illiteracy in Mexico: 2015

Illiteracy in Mexico has fallen considerably over the past decades. With this, the share of illiterate children that come from families of illiterate parents have fallen too. Yet, in 2015, 10.6% of the children who had illiterate parents were also illiterate, a number three times larger than the figure for the children with literate parents (slightly below 3%).
In a way, if causality can be granted, Illitracy2015_Children_Map_ByState_EPOCAthis can be seen as a measure of inter-generational transmission of this educational and
social ailment.

Despite progress in literacy, the map
to the right shows that illiteracy among the young is still high in some regions and states of the country. Not surprisingly, this is the case in those states in which poverty is more acute, namely the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

When we look at the whole population sample, one sees again that a pattern of educational exclusion emerges, with the south-west and the mountainous and indigenous regions of the country palpably worse off. The map below shows that in a vast number of municipalities illiteracy affects a large share of its population. This is a fact with important implications as poverty and illiteracy reinforce each other in a circular manner. Finding illiteracy rates this high is worrisome both for its consequences and for what they reveal about how lives go for people in many parts of the country.


(1) Maps built using data from “Encuesta Intercensal 2015” obtained from Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía.

Homicides in Mexico and a 10-year-old war on drugs


Homicides are one of the most violent manifestations of breakups in the social structure. While not all homicides are intentional, many are and these are the focus of this analysis.

Homicides respond to different dynamics and forces, in Mexico, many of these respond to drug cartel pressures. This can be seen in the map above -which plots homicide rates in each  municipality (2456) for 2015. Murder rates are palpably higher in three areas well known to be linked to drug trafficking: two related to the US border and one in the central Pacific region (a spot through which precursors for manufacturing of synthetic drugs come into the country from Asia, mainly from China).

Homicide rates tend to be higher in regions disputed by more than one cartel. This why the policy to militarily dissolve the cartels often leads to spirals of violence. This approach destabilizes the long term equilibrium  of territorial distribution by weakening incumbent cartels. As a consequence of this,  new groups emerge and contest the domain of a particular region.

This is one reason that explains why the approach to drugs that the Mexican government decided to follow ten years ago has fatally failed. This failure can be measured in a number of ways: by the number of lives lost; the loss of economic opportunities; forced migration; budget devoted to the military and security rather than to socially valuable public goods, and so on. Under no metric does the social benefits brought by this strategy surpass its enormous social costs.

In the meantime, many countries have made strong steps to revert their policies towards more flexible drug production and consumption laws to treat the matter exclusively as a public health issue while taxing its consumption. There should be no doubt that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been unequally enforced in different parts of the world. However, this gives more freedom to Mexico for reflecting about where it’s going and which path it wants to take in the future.





Stratification of Poverty in Mexico


In Mexico, 80% of its population is deprived of at least one basic social and economic life dimension. Poverty in Mexico, regardless of how one measures it, is a widespread phenomenon that has grown on a par with population.

The poverty measure employed here focuses on seven categories, one of which is income, four others are cutoff indexes indicating whether individuals have access to health, education, food and social security and two others related to the quality of housing and access to basic housing services (such as running water or electricity). With these categories, a classification scheme for multidimensional poverty is constructed:

  • Extreme Multidimensional Poverty: Income below the necessary income to afford the most basics of life and being deprived of three or more dimensions.
  • Multidimensional Poverty: Income below the necessary income to afford the basics of life and being deprived of one dimension.

Distribution of poverty 2014 - Coneval - 3

Despite this graph showing data of 2014, if one explores previews data it will find that little has changed in the composition of poverty over time. This is highly problematic as only one in five Mexicans live out of poverty hinting to the fact that social mobility is close to nonexistent.

Intergenerational transmission of social and economic conditions is perhaps in the core of understanding Mexico’s economic underperformance. When intergenerational transmission of poverty is elevated, many high skilled individuals will not fully materialize their potential and thus their contribution to society will be suboptimal. Thus, the degree at which individual’s social and economic development level is shaped by non-individual decisions partially determines how resources and opportunities are allocated. This in turn affects long run economic dynamics.

How we understand poverty can importantly influence how we come to measure it, how we analyse it and how we create policies to fight it. Poverty in Mexico is a critical social problem that Mexican governments have widely ignored and failed to tackle.

by Diego de la Fuente


Note: Data on poverty gathered from Coneval 2014.