Director, Center for International Development
Why is Chiapas Poor?
Levy, Dan, Ricardo Hausmann, Miguel Angel Santos, Luis Espinoza, and Miguel Flores. "Why is Chiapas Poor?" HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP16-049, July 2015.
No matter which way you look at it, Chiapas is the most backward of any state in Mexico. Its per capita income is the lowest of the 32 federal entities, at barely 40% of the national median (Figure 1). Its growth rate for the decade 2003-2013 was also the lowest (0.2%),1 causing the income gap separating Chiapas from the national average to increase from 53% to 60%. That is to say that today the average income for a worker in Mexico is two and a half times greater than the average in Chiapas. The two next poorest states, Oaxaca and Guerrero, are 25% and 30% above Chiapas.2 According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía de México (INEGI, National Institute of Statistics and Geography), Chiapas is also the state with the highest poverty rate (74.7%) as well as extreme poverty (46.7%).3
These major differences in income levels among Mexican federal entities are reproduced as in a fractal within Chiapas. In fact, while the wealthiest entity (Mexico City) is wealthier than the poorest (Chiapas) by a factor of six, the difference within Chiapas between the wealthiest municipality (Tuxtla Gutiérrez) and the poorest (Aldama and Mitontic) is by a factor greater than eight.4
As there are different "Mexicos" within Mexico,5 in Chiapas there are also different sorts of Chiapas (Figure 2). Income per capita in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, to the right of the distribution, is five standard deviations above the state average. Next comes a series of intermediate cities, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Comitán de Domínguez, Tapachula, and Reforma, between two and a half to four standard deviations above the average. The remaining municipalities of Chiapas follow (122 in all), clustered to the far left of the distribution. In addition, both the statistics available at the town level and our visits to various municipalities in Chiapas seem to indicate that significant differences also exist within these municipalities.
From this vantage point, questions as to why Chiapas is poor, or what explains its significant backwardness compared to other areas of Mexico, become much more complex. Why do some regions in Chiapas have high income levels, while other regions remain stagnant, fully dependent on federal transfers and deprived from the benefits of modern life?
1 This is the non-oil gross domestic product growth rate reported by INEGI, considered to be more representative of the productive spectrum. In any case, the overall rate of growth in Chiapas (-0.2%) was also the lowest amongst all Mexican entities for the decade.
2 Refers to non-oil GDP; in general terms, Guerrero and Oaxaca are 19% and 16% above Chiapas.
3 Growth figures refer to the decade 2003-2013, poverty figures are those published by INEGI for 2012.
4 Comparisons of Chiapas municipalities are made based on the data from the 10% sample of the 2010 Population Census, which is representative at the state level.
5 This is a reference to the report, A tale of two Mexicos: Growth and prosperity in a two-speed economy, McKinsey Global Institute (2014).