Political Science Now

The Mexican Color Hierarchy: How Race and Skin Tone Still Define Life Chances 200 Years after Independence

Chapter 1: The Mexican Color Hierarchy: How Race and Skin Tone Still Define Life Chances 200 Years after Independence

Guillermo Trejo, University of Notre Dame
Melina Altamirano, Duke University

Mexico is a country of entrenched poverty and enduring social inequalities. In the past 40 years, approximately 50% of the country’s population has lived below the poverty line. The Gini coefficient of income inequality has remained nearly unchanged at around 0.48, making Mexico one of the most unequal countries in the world.1 Social inequalities are pervasive. Beyond differences among income groups, wide and persistent inequalities exist across and within subnational regions, cities, neighborhoods, and households. Poverty and social inequalities in Mexico have persisted under different economic and political regimes and, despite the adoption of different social and economic policies, they have remained nearly unchanged under state-led (1970–1982) and market (1984 to the present) economies; under closed (1940–1984) and open (1984 to the present) economies; and under autocracy (1929–2000) and democracy (2000 to the present). The prevalence of poverty and social inequalities under different economic and political regimes raises the question of whether these social problems are primarily the result of poor public policies or are related to systemic forms of discrimination based on individual social attributes, such as class, ethnicity, and race. The question is: Beyond traditional economic and political models, are enduring poverty and social inequalities rooted in systemic forms of public discrimination against individuals based on their class status, ethnolinguistic and cultural practices, or their race and phenotypical appearances?