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ECLAC Presents to Social Development Ministers an Analysis of Inequality and Proposals to Combat it

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31 October 2016|Press Release

The regional United Nations organization will unveil a new study during the first meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Social Development.

ECLAC will present a document tomorrow to the ministers and senior authorities on social matters gathered in Santo Domingo that analyzes the social inequality that characterizes the region based on what it considers to be its main core structural axes – such as socioeconomic level, gender, ethno-racial status, age and territory – and that proposes strengthening strategies for inclusive social development through the coordination of economic, social and environmental policies.

The study entitled The social inequality matrix in Latin America will be presented during the first meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Social Development, organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

This gathering will take place in conjunction with the VIII Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was inaugurated today with the presence of the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina; the country’s Vice President, Margarita Cedeño; ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena; and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark.

“The social inequality matrix in Latin America is strongly conditioned by its economic and productive matrix, characterized by high structural heterogeneity, in such a way that the basic determinant of inequality is socioeconomic stratum or social class. However, there are other core structural aspects related to gender, ethnicity and race, the cycle of life and territory that are linked, intersect and reinforce themselves,” Bárcena said today during the forum’s opening session.

The document will be commented upon on Tuesday by Dominican Vice President Margarita Cedeño; the Peruvian Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, Cayetana Aljovín; Chile’s Minister of Social Development, Marcos Barraza; and Uruguay’s Deputy Minister of Social Development, Ana Olivera.

According to figures brought together in this study, in 2014 the poverty rate of the indigenous population was higher than that of the population that is neither indigenous nor Afro-descendent in nine countries with available information, with ranges oscillating from 30 percentage points in Paraguay and Brazil to 2 and 3 points in Chile and Uruguay, respectively. Meanwhile, the poverty rate of the Afro-descendent population was more than double that of the non-Afro-descendent, non-indigenous population in Brazil and Uruguay and was about 1.5 times greater in Ecuador and Peru. These are the four countries with available data for that time period.

The racial and ethnic gaps intersect with gender as well, ECLAC underscores in this study. Both in Uruguay and Brazil, the unemployment rates of young Afro-descendent women (between 15 and 19 years of age) are more than double those of young non-Afro-descendent men, despite the fact that their education levels are similar.

Similarly, in the four countries in which information is available (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay), an increase in schooling has not been enough to eliminate the income gaps marked by gender and ethno-racial dimensions: among those who have a tertiary education, indigenous and Afro-descendent women receive about half of the labor income that non-Afro-descendent, non-indigenous men get.

The document also addresses inequalities linked to childhood, youth and old age. In this last case, the gap between men and women in access to pensions and retirements is still significant despite the fact that it shrank from 17.1 percentage points in 1994 to 12.0 percentage points in 2014, when the figure was 63.5% for men and 51.5% for women, according to a simple average among 10 Latin American countries. That is the result of inequalities accumulated throughout the life cycle, particularly of fewer opportunities for women to access formal employment and with social protection.

With regard to territorial inequality, the study indicates that in five countries (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) the difference among the regions with the highest and lowest poverty rates exceeds 40 percentage points. In addition, many of the territories with the greatest levels of poverty and lowest schooling levels also have high percentages of indigenous or Afro-descendent populations, which demonstrates once again how inequalities intersect.

To comply with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which among other goals seeks to put an end to poverty and reduce inequality without leaving anyone behind, ECLAC sets forth eight specific recommendations in this report, the first of which is to implement economic, social and environmental policies that are coordinated among themselves and focused on progressive structural change. 

The other recommendations include developing rights-based public policies with an integrated perspective; orienting them towards a universalism that is sensitive to differences to break down the access barriers to social services and well-being faced by people who suffer inequality and exclusion; grounding the policies in social compacts and robust institutions; strengthening their territorial dimension; generating systematic statistical information on the different dimensions of inequality; protecting social spending and boosting tax revenues; and moving from a culture of privilege to a culture of equality.

This document deepens the analysis made in the study Inclusive social development: The next generation of policies for overcoming poverty and reducing inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, which ECLAC presented at the first meeting of the Regional Conference on Social Development, held in Lima in November 2015. This Conference is a subsidiary body of ECLAC that was created in May 2014.

That publication gave an overview of the evolution of poverty and income distribution, the labor market and aspects related to health, education and social protection, and it defined some public policy lines of action, such as the promotion of rights-based social protection systems and the consolidation of social policies and their transformation from policies of a given government into lasting State policy.