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Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class

After decades of stagnation, the size of the middle class in Latin America and the Caribbean recently grew by 50 percent—from approximately 100 million people in 2003 to 150 million (or 30 percent of the continent’s population) in 2009. Over the same period, the proportion of people in poverty fell from 44 percent to around 30 percent. Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class investigates the nature, determinants, and possible consequences of this remarkable process of social transformation. The authors propose an original definition of the middle class, tailor-made for Latin America and centered on the concept of economic security.

By this definition, the largest social group in the region at present is neither poor nor middle-class: they are a vulnerable group sandwiched between the poverty line and the minimum requirements for a more secure, middle-class lifestyle. The rise of the middle class reflects recent changes in economic mobility. Intergenerational mobility—a concept inversely related to inequality of opportunity—has improved slightly during the last decade, but remains very limited. Both educational achievement and attainment, for example, remain strongly dependent on parental education levels.

Middle Class and Mobility Flagship

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But there has been a real increase in income mobility within generations. Over the past 15 years, at least 43 percent of all Latin Americans changed social classes—most of them moving upward. The authors argue that there are many potential benefits from a growing middle class, but caution that whether those benefits come to fruition will depend, to a large extent, on whether countries manage to anchor their middle classes into a new, more cohesive, social contract that emphasizes the inclusion of those who have been left behind.


Economic Mobility and the Rise of the Latin American Middle Class will be of interest to policy makers in Latin America and other regions, officials in multilateral institutions, and students and academics in economics, public policy, and the social sciences.


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