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Guatemala - Highlights

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

Indigenous Peoples 1994-2004 button

Indigenous population
About 39% of Guatemalans identify themselves as indigenous. Between 1989 and 2000, Guatemala’s indigenous population became older and more likely to live in urban areas.

National poverty and extreme poverty rates fell for both indigenous people and Ladinos (non-indigenous), but indigenous people are not catching up to Ladinos. The poverty headcount for indigenous people fell by 14% between 1989 and 2000 to 74%, while the poverty headcount for Ladinos fell by 25% during that same period to 38%. The extreme poverty headcount for indigenous people fell by 29% to 24.3%, while for Ladinos it fell by 34% to 6.5%. (Chapter 5: Table 3).

Among indigenous people, the Mam are poorest, but the exact reason is unclear. About 72% of the Q’eqchi’ are extremely poor, while 65% of the Mam and 37% of the K’iche and Kaqchikel are extremely poor.

Income and employment
A similar portion of the indigenous and Ladino populations participate in the labor force. Almost 22% of Ladinos are underemployed while 15% of indigenous people are underemployed. Indigenous people are about 18% more likely than Ladinos to work in the informal sector, but that inequality diminished from 27% in 1989 to 18% in 2000. Indigenous people – in both rural and urban areas – are far more likely to work in agriculture, fishing and livestock, though agricultural work among indigenous people dropped more quickly between 1989 and 2000 than did agricultural work among Ladinos.

Wage differences
Earnings differential between indigenous people and Ladinos due to differences in endowments ranges between 71% and 83% for women, and between 58% and 64% for men. Differences in endowments can explain 80% of the earnings differential among women and 63% of the differential among men. The remaining differential is attributable to unexplained factors such as quality of education, years of unemployment, and discrimination. (Chapter 5: Table 12).

Returns to schooling
For all groups, one additional year of schooling was associated with an increase in earnings by 13%. Returns to schooling are highest for indigenous women at about 14%, and lowest for indigenous men at about 11%. Particularly high returns to schooling for indigenous women are notable in light of their low 2.6 mean years of schooling in 2000. (Chapter 5: Table 15).

Indigenous Guatemalans aged 15 to 31 have on average 3.5 years of schooling compared to 6.3 years for Ladinos. In 2000, only 53% of indigenous people aged 15-64 could read and write in Spanish while 82% of all Ladinos could. Demand and quality of schooling appear to be significant reasons for why indigenous Guatemalans have fewer years of schooling. About 44% of indigenous first graders drop out of school, compared to 31% of Ladino first graders, and indigenous children have far lower Spanish and mathematics test scores. Although research has shown bilingual education to be cost-effective in teaching indigenous students, less than a third of indigenous Guatemalans are enrolled in bilingual education. (Chapter 5: Tables 20 and 22).

Child labor
Child workers are predominantly male, rural, uneducated, and indigenous, who work in the informal sector, and usually do not receive pay for their work. Between 1989 and 2000, the portion of working children with no schooling decreased by 48% among indigenous people to 23%, and by 38% among Ladinos to 10%. Indigenous children are less likely to attend school, but of those who do attend school, a larger portion also works. (Chapter 5: Table 17).

Indigenous people less often use health services, though that difference appears to be due to indigenous-Ladino background. Only 5% of indigenous Guatemalans have insurance, compared to 18% of Ladinos. About 27% of pregnant indigenous women receive no prenatal care, compared to 18% of pregnant Ladino women. Only 15% of indigenous women give birth in hospitals, while 51% of Ladino women do. About 32% of indigenous women declare knowledge of some contraceptive method, and only 12% use some form of contraception, compared to 71% and 57% of Ladino women, respectively. (Chapter 5: Table 34). 

Access to services
Indigenous Guatemalans remain with inferior access to public services, but inequality in access between Ladinos and indigenous people diminished between 1989 and 2000. Access in rural areas is far worse than in urban areas. In rural areas, for example, only 50% of indigenous people and 62% of Ladinos have access to electricity, compared to 89% and 97% in urban areas, respectively. (Chapter 5: Table 39).

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