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Social mobility in Latin America: a review of existing evidence

Viviane Azevedo & Cesar Bouillon
Publication year: 
Source of the information: 
Inter-American Development Bank



This paper reviews evidence on social mobility in Latin America. While Latin America has improved education mobility in recent decades, it still presents lower education mobility than in developed countries. The paper also reviews studies on the main determinants of the region’s low levels of social mobility. 
The paper provides information on issues such as suitable data to empirically characterize social mobility, datasets that capture information on children’s income and parents’ education and occupational variables and incentives, perceptions of social mobility and meritocracy are fundamental for the long-run prospects of economies and societies.



  • Lower tail immobility which may be associated with poverty traps is more prevalent across excluded populations and poorer regions
  • Upper tail immobility seems to be associated with “traditionally” more privileged groups and more developed regions
  • Higher levels of immobility seem to be associated with low levels of access to higher education
  • Improvements in educational quality and access, health care and nutrition, and access to credit represent only a few possible areas for improvement.
Recommendations and Conclusions:
  • In rigorous studies on the determinants of social mobility in developed countries, education mobility and access to higher education are found to be the main determinants of social mobility
  • The urbanization process and the increased opportunities for migration from poorer areas should promote higher mobility
  • Regions should design policies and programs and possibly undertake legal reforms that will equip individuals to participate in both the benefits and responsibilities of society
  • Policies must emphasize equality of opportunities through the development of human and social capital rather than short-term attempts to equalize outcomes.