Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class

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Overview

After decades of stagnation, the size of Latin America's middle class recently expanded to the point where, for the first time ever, the number of people in poverty is equal to the size of the middle class. This volume investigates the nature, determinants and possible consequences of this remarkable process of social transformation. We propose an original definition of the middle class, tailor-made for Latin America, centered on the concept of economic security and thus a low probability of falling into poverty....

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Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class

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Overview

After decades of stagnation, the size of Latin America's middle class recently expanded to the point where, for the first time ever, the number of people in poverty is equal to the size of the middle class. This volume investigates the nature, determinants and possible consequences of this remarkable process of social transformation. We propose an original definition of the middle class, tailor-made for Latin America, centered on the concept of economic security and thus a low probability of falling into poverty. Given our definition of the middle class, there are four, not three, classes in Latin America. Sandwiched between the poor and the middle class there lies a large group of people who appear to make ends meet well enough, but do not enjoy the economic security that would be required for membership of the middle class. We call this group the 'vulnerable'.

In an almost mechanical sense, these transformations in Latin America reflect both economic growth and declining inequality in over the period. We adopt a measure of mobility that decomposes the 'gainers' and 'losers' in society by social class of each household. The continent has experienced a large amount of churning over the last 15 years, at least 43% of all Latin Americans changed social classes between the mid 1990s and the end of the 2000s.

Despite the upward mobility trend, intergenerational mobility, a better proxy for inequality of opportunity, remains stagnant. Educational achievement and attainment remain to be strongly dependent upon parental education levels. Despite the recent growth in pro-poor programs, the middle class has benefited disproportionally from social security transfers and are increasingly opting out from government services. Central to the region's prospects of continued progress will be its ability to harness the new middle class into a new, more inclusive social contract, where the better-off pay their fair share of taxes, and demand improved public services.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821396346
  • Publisher: World Bank Publications
  • Publication date: 11/9/2012
  • Series: Latin America and Caribbean Studies
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 10.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Abbreviations xv

Overview 1

A middle-income region on the way to becoming a middle-class region 1

Within generations, remarkable upward mobility 4

Across generations, mobility remains low 6

A snapshot of the Latin American middle class 9

The middle class and the social contract 11

Notes 13

References 14

1 Introduction 15

Latin American "climbers" and "stayers" 17

The broad context 18

Pursuing the questions 19

Notes 22

References 22

2 Economic Mobility and the Middle Class: Concepts and Measurement 23

Spaces, domains, and concepts of economic mobility 24

Defining the middle class 29

Linking mobility and middle-class dynamics: A matrix decomposition 37

Notes 45

References 46

3 Mobility across Generations 49

Educational attainment: How important is parental background? 53

The importance of educational achievement 60

From educational to income mobility 65

Policies and intergenerational educational mobility 67

Conclusions 81

Notes 87

References 88

4 Mobility within Generations 93

Using synthetic panels to study long-term mobility 94

Income mobility in Latin America: The past two decades 98

Unravelling the box: Exiting poverty and entering the middle class 101

Mobility profiles: Insights for policy 108

Concluding remarks 117

Annex 4.1 Data used for intragenerational mobility estimates 124

Annex 4.2 Regional and country intragenerational mobility estimates and decomposition using synthetic panels 125

Notes 132

References 132

5 The Rising Latin American and Caribbean Middle Class 135

The middle class in Latin America and the Caribbean 136

Recent middle-class growth trends 137

Forecasts for poverty reduction and middle-class growth 142

Who is middle class in Latin America and the Caribbean? 145

Broad class profiles from three exemplar countries 146

Middle-class characteristics, selected countries 147

References 158

6 The Middle Class and the Social Contract in Latin America 159

The middle class and the shaping of economic policy 160

Values and beliefs of the Latin American middle classes 166

Overcoming a fragmented social contract 171

Notes 179

References 179

Boxes

3.1 Assessing the association of socioeconomic status across generations 52

3.2 Income mobility in high-income countries 66

3.3 Cross-country analysis of policies and institutions and intergenerational mobility 68

3.4 Tuition loans in Chile: Is the alleviation of credit constraints a good policy to close the gap in educational attainment between rich and poor? 71

3.5 Conditional cash transfers and children's educational outcomes 77

3.6 Voucher systems in Chile and Colombia: Did they help the achievements of the poor? 80

4.1 Existing findings on intragenerational mobility in Latin America 95

4.2 The welfare costs of downward mobility in Nicaragua 108

4.3 "Calling in" long-term mobility: Did cell phones improve mobility in rural Peru? 119

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