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The social inequality matrix in Latin America

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), headquartered in Santiago de Chile, is one of the United Nations’ five regional commissions. It was set up to contribute to Latin America’s economic development, coordinating actions to promote and strengthen countries’ economic relations with one another and with the rest of the world. The commission was subsequently enlarged to include the countries of the Caribbean.

This report focuses on the region’s social inequality matrix and is the response to the mandate conferred by Latin American and Caribbean countries on ECLAC during the Regional Conference on Social Development in the region held in Lima in November 2015.Its starting point is that social inequality is a structural characteristic and a fundamental challenge for Latin America.

The study highlights that in Latin American and Caribbean societies, poverty, vulnerability and inequality are structural problems. It notes that the worsening of some economic and labour market indicators mean that the region is at risk of going into reverse.

The analysis concentrates on the main pillars of social inequality: gender, race, age and/or stage of the life cycle and territory. These different dimensions of inequality are interrelated, hitting certain groups of the population more than others.

Two types of inequality are described in the report:

  • Inequality of income, manifested as the social class to which one belongs, which is the root cause and effect of other inequalities in areas such as education, health, work and income.
  • Cross-category inequalities, of which it notes that:
    • Poverty and absolute poverty are higher among indigenous peoples and descendants of the African population in all the countries studied, and particularly noticeable among women in these two groups.
    • Poverty rates are higher among children and adolescents.
    • Teenage motherhood is much more widespread in rural areas, which has a direct impact on educational attainment.

From this analysis, the document makes a number of recommendations in its conclusion, among them:

  • Economic, productive, labour, social and environmental policies must be coordinated with one another.
  • A rights-based focus and an integrated approach are key for the success of policies to fight inequality.
  • Institutions must be further empowered and robust social policies must be underpinned by social compacts.
  • Social expenditure and tax revenues spent on social development are critical, as is the need to increase statistical capabilities in order to provide visibility for the different dimensions of inequality and to work towards greater understanding of them.
  • The importance of moving away from a culture of privilege towards one of equality, which calls for policies oriented towards universal rights that are also sensitive to differences.