Positive Peace and the rights of Mexico's Indigenous people

An important element of positive peace is the acceptance of others, particularly those from different religions, nationalities or ethnicities. In many countries a concrete way to measure acceptance as a positive peace dimension is the absence of discrimination against foreigners or immigrants. Central American immigrants all too often suffer from discriminatory practices in Mexico. But the most salient form of discrimination in the country is not necessarily towards foreign immigrants, but against its own original peoples. The most persistent poverty in Mexico is found precisely among its indigenous peoples.  Notwithstanding the recent empowerment of indigenous peoples throughout Latin America (with political representation and legislative recognition of their ethnic rights), the labor income gap between equivalently educated indigenous and non-indigenous workers in the region is somewhere between 27 and 57 percent.   Discrimination accounts for much of this income differential.  

The extreme poverty rate among the population that speaks an indigenous language in Mexico, according to CONEVAL, the agency in charge of poverty measurement, is 38 percent.   This is four times larger than the 9.8 percent of the population classified as extremely poor in 2012. According to this agency, only a fifth of Mexicans can be considered to be neither poor, nor vulnerable of falling into poverty.  But for Mexicans who speak an indigenous language, this indicator of wellbeing is only 3.5 percent. This means that 96.5 percent of the indigenous people in Mexico are either poor because their income level does not cover basic needs such as food, clothing and housing costs; or vulnerable to poverty because they lack at least one basic public good such as sewerage, electricity, health, social security or schooling.

The difference between incomes of indigenous and non-indigenous wage earners, according to the 2010 Census collected by INEGI, can be seen in Table 1. States are ranked according to the relative size of the unconditional gap in average wages for both men and women, according to whether they self-ascribe as indigenous. These unconditional income differences (that is, not taking into account differences in life cycle, human capital, family structure and other socio-demographic variables) are very large. These differences are, however, not quite a measure of ethnic discrimination.


Table 1. Unconditional differences in income between indigenous and non-indigenous wage earners (2010 census).

Indigenous peoples have historically lacked equivalent educational opportunities, compared to non-indigenous citizens. Therefore they possess less years of schooling and have lower measures of education attainment. A large part of the incidence of poverty among indigenous peoples is related to this lack of human capital. Although discrimination might be behind different educational opportunities, in is important to calculate the income gap controlling for human capital formation. In a society with positive peace, indigenous ethnic identity should not be a disadvantage in labor markets, compared to equally qualified workers, compared across the same education levels. 

Compensation will also be determined by a combination of other factors beyond education, including skills as well as differences in innate talent. There are also well known differences in earnings along the life cycle; and it would not be surprising to find that there are some regional and sectorial differences incomes depending on occupation or economic activity. But all of these variations in labor conditions can be observed and measured, and therefore controlled for in measuring income differences. 

Given that innate talent is not differentially distributed across ethnic groups, if a residual systematic difference is found in the earnings of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, controlling for differences in skills, human capital and other observable circumstances, it is quite likely that the remaining differential is driven by social exclusion and discrimination. The comparison has to be done in a counterfactual framework, estimating what the income would be of an equivalent individual that is indigenous, had he or she not been indigenous. 

In a preliminary effort to provide a methodology and some insights about how to calculate ethnic discrimination as a component of positive peace in Mexico, a matching estimation was performed.  The matching method takes advantage of the extremely large sample size of the Mexican census sample (10 percent of the population) in 2010, which allows for the comparison of incomes in counterfactual individuals that have exactly the same characteristics as an indigenous wage earner, except that they are not indigenous. The exercise was performed both with information on linguistic differences as well as voluntary self-adscription. The index of discrimination presented below uses only self-adscription, a broader definition of being indigenous than the linguistic approach. 

Table 2 provides the estimates of this metric of discrimination, for each state.  The table reports the number of indigenous men and women that were matched in the sample, where the “treatment” variable is being indigenous and the “control” variable is individuals that do not report an indigenous identity in the census. The credibility of the exercise hinges on believing that the ordering of matches is reasonable, so that the comparison in each pair involves people who have similar probabilities of being indigenous due to their underlying characteristics, but one reported being indigenous, while the other did not. Since this is a statistical exercise, it is possible to calculate standard errors, which allow for the calculation of confidence intervals at the 95 percent level. 


Table 2. Non-Discrimination Towards Indigenous Peoples in Mexico (measured as matched comparison of earnings in 2010).

Numbers in bold are statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level. Numbers in italics are significant at 90 percent.

Although the results are quite preliminary, some interesting patterns emerge. States are ranked according to the size of the estimated earnings gap for men, and numbers in bold are those where the estimated gap is statistically significant (in italics those significant at the 90 percent level). It turns out that the only state with no negative gap for women is Aguascalientes (although not statistically different from 0). The other states that do not seem to exhibit statistically different earnings for indigenous peoples are Zacatecas, Guerrero and Nayarit. In addition, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Querétaro and San Luis Potosí show no statistical significant gap for women.  The wage gap for indigenous men is usually larger than for women, reaching a very large magnitude in Yucatán. This suggests that in many states women are not discriminated due to their indigenous status, even though there could be some gender discrimination in place. However, it is important to highlight that the lowest rank in the case of women belongs to the two most important oil producing states, Tabasco and Campeche.

The table ranks states according to the absence of discrimination, according to the earnings gap of men, expressed as the percentage of the average earnings of non-indigenous workers in any given state. This is done in order to adjust for the difference in average earnings across states. The top five states in this ranking of non-discrimination are Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Distrito Federal, Tlaxcala, and perhaps surprisingly, Guerrero. Some of the most indigenous states in the country (Oaxaca or Puebla) are found at intermediate levels in the ranking. The last five ranked are Sonora, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, with Yucatán in last place. 


This essay was written by Alberto Diaz-Cayeros, Senior Fellow, Center for Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, for the 2016 Mexico Peace Index.




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