Has Latin America Always Been Unequal?

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


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.
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Biographical Note

Ewout H.P. Frankema, Ph.D. (2008) in Economics, University of Groningen, is Assistant Professor of Economic and Social History at Utrecht University.

Table of contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Latin America: A history of persistent inequality?
1.2 The long twentieth century
1.3 ‘Latin’ inequality characteristics
1.4 An integrative approach
1.5 Outline

2. The Institutionalisation of Inequality in Colonial Latin America
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The core and the periphery
2.3 Mercantilism and resource extraction
2.4 The institutionalisation of inequality
2.5 The disintegration of the colonial empire in the 19th century
2.6 Conclusion

3. The Omnipresence of Land Inequality in Post-Colonial Latin America
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Perspectives on the colonial roots of Latin American land inequality
3.3 Global and regional variation in levels of land inequality
3.4 A multivariate regression analysis of land inequality
3.5 Land market institutions in three British colonies: Malaysia, Sierra Leone and Zambia
3.6 The colonial roots of Latin American land inequality in comparative perspective
3.7 Conclusion

4. The Advance of Mass Education: Quantity or Quality?
4.1 Introduction
4.2 From land inequality to educational inequality
4.3 The comparative development of primary school enrolment rates, 1870-2000
4.4 Educational inequality in Latin America: different concepts, different views
4.5 A grade enrolment distribution approach, 1960-2005
4.6 Conclusion

5. The Secular Trend of Income Inequality, 1870-2000: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The distributive consequences of globalisation and de-globalisation
5.3 The distributive consequences of factor biased structural and technological change
5.4 Institutional change and distributional change: a collective action perspective
5.5 Conclusion

6. Changing patterns of factor income distribution, 1870-2000
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Labour productivity and wage shares in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, 1870-2000
6.3 Sweeping population growth and rural-urban migration
6.4 Expanding urban informal sectors
6.5 Estimating the secular trend in factor income shares in Argentina and Mexico
6.6 Conclusion

7. The Recent Rise of Urban Wage Inequality
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Labour market institutions and wage inequality in early 20th century Argentina
7.3 Long run trends in manufacturing wage inequality
7.4 Explaining the recent rise in urban wage and productivity differentials
7.5 Conclusion

8. Conclusion
8.1 Has Latin America always been unequal?
8.2 Future perspectives


All those interested in the gap between rich and poor, the history of Latin America and long run processes of social and economic development in general.

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