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Has Latin America Always Been Unequal?

A Comparative Study of Asset and Income Inequality in the Long Twentieth Century


Ewout Frankema

The forces of industrialisation, urbanisation, globalisation and technological change have washed away the pre-modern outlook of most Latin American economies. Despite the improved opportunities of social mobility offered by economic modernisation, current income inequality levels (still) appear extraordinary high. Has Latin America always been unequal? Did the region fail to settle a longstanding account with its colonial past? Or should we be reluctant to point our finger so far back in time? In a comparative study of asset and income distribution Frankema shows that both the levels, and nature, of income inequality have changed significantly since 1870. Besides the deep historical roots of land and educational inequality, more recent demographic and political-institutional forces are taken on board to understand Latin America’s distributive dynamics in the long twentieth century.
Open Access

Ewout Frankema, Pieter Woltjer, Angus Dalrymple-Smith and Leandre Bulambo

Related data set “African Commodity Trade Database” with url in repository “dans”. The African Commodity Trade Database (actd) aims to stimulate and deepen research on African and global economic history. The database provides export and import series at product level for more than two and a half centuries of African trade (1730–2010). This article introduces potential users to some of the major questions that can be explored with African commodity trade data, as well as the sources, structure and limitations of the dataset. The current version of the actd is downloadable from the data repository of the African Economic History Network ( and will be regularly updated with new data.