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Bolivia - Highlights

Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004

Indigenous Peoples 1994-2004 button

Indigenous population
Indigenous people represent a majority of Bolivia’s population at 62% (about 3.9 million people). In rural areas, 72% of the population speaks indigenous languages, compared to 36% in urban areas. While the plains are 17% indigenous and 83% non-indigenous, the highlands and valleys are 67% and 60% indigenous, respectively. Bolivia’s Quechuas and Aymaras predominantly reside in the highlands and valleys.

Between 1997 and 2002, poverty rates decreased slightly for indigenous and non-indigenous people from 75% to 74% and from 57% to 53%, respectively. As of 2002, rural and urban poverty rates were much higher among the indigenous than the non-indigenous population (86% versus 74% in rural areas, and 59% versus 47% in urban areas). Extreme poverty rates also decreased between 1997 and 2002 for non-indigenous people from 31% to 27%, but remained constant for indigenous people at about 52%. In rural areas, extreme poverty actually increased for indigenous people (from 65% to 72%), but decreased slightly for non-indigenous people (from 53% to 52%). In urban areas, poverty fell slightly for both groups. (Ch. 3: Tables 2 and 3).

The richest 10% of Bolivians consume 22 times more than the poorest 10%. Almost two-thirds of the indigenous population is among the poorest 50% of the population. If gains were perfectly distributed, Bolivia’s indigenous population would require about twice as much income per person as the non-indigenous population to escape poverty. (Ch. 3: Table 8).

Income and employment
The rate of labor force participation is 81% for the indigenous population and 64% for the non-indigenous population. Indigenous people are about 3% less likely to be unemployed (4% versus 7%). Nearly a third of employed indigenous people receive no pay for their work, compared to 13% of non-indigenous people. Most unpaid work is carried out by women. In 2002, about 84% of the indigenous population and 67% of the non-indigenous population worked in the informal sector. (Ch. 3: Tables 9 and 10).

Wage differences
Non-indigenous employed people earn 1,127 bolivianos per month, while indigenous employed people earn less than half that amount (513 bolivianos per month). Overall, 73% of the earnings differential between indigenous and non-indigenous workers is due to observable factors, while the remaining 27% is due to discrimination and unobserved factors such as quality of schooling, culture, and ability. (Ch. 3: Tables 12 and 14).

Returns to schooling
Both in 1989 and 2002, schooling had a significant and positive effect on earnings. Returns to a year of schooling for non-indigenous people are 9.4%, while returns for indigenous people are 6.4%. This means that from nine years of schooling, for example, non-indigenous wages would increase by 85% while indigenous wages would increase by only 58%.

The indigenous population has 3.7 fewer years of schooling (5.9 years) than the non-indigenous population (9.6 years). Illiteracy is particularly concentrated among the female indigenous population, affecting one of every four women over the age of 35. In 2002, 18% of the non-indigenous population aged 15 years or older was in school, compared to 8% of the indigenous population. Secondary and tertiary schooling for indigenous people were also low. (Ch. 3: Tables 22, 25 and 26).

By 2001, nearly 2,400 schools (mainly in rural areas) provided bilingual education — more than twice the number in 1997. Despite the progress made in the last decade, drop-out rates are high, especially among indigenous boys and girls in rural areas. In order to improve educational achievement, solutions such as class-size regulation, extended and improved bilingual education programs, and the development of texts in indigenous languages (not merely in Spanish) may help narrow the gap.

Child labor
The incidence of child labor is nearly four times higher among indigenous than non-indigenous children. In 2002, 31% of indigenous children between the ages of 9 and 11 worked, compared to 8% of non-indigenous children. Indigenous adolescents ages 12 to 18 enter the labor force at high rates, surpassing several times the entrance rate of the non-indigenous population. (Ch. 3: Table 16).

About 30% of indigenous women deliver children in hospitals, compared to 55% of non-indigenous women, which may be due to different cultural traditions but can give less access to care in case of complications. The rates of health insurance coverage are low overall, but indigenous people in particular have less access to public health insurance than non-indigenous people (10% versus 14%), and less access to private health insurance (2% versus 5%). (Ch. 3: Tables 29 and 33).