Indigenous Peoples Benefited to a Lesser Extent from Latin American Boom

February 15, 2016

Half of region’s indigenous people live in urban areas

PANAMA CITY, February 15, 2016 – Indigenous peoples made significant social progress, experienced a reduction in poverty levels in several countries and gained improved access to basic services during the boom of the first decade of the century, but they did not benefit to the same extent as the rest of Latin Americans, according to a new World Bank study.

The study Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, notes that thanks to a combination of economic growth and good social policies, over 70 million people were lifted out of poverty. Poverty of indigenous households decreased in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador, while in others, such as Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, the educational gap that for decades excluded indigenous children was closed.

However, the report presented here today indicates that while indigenous peoples make up 8 percent of the population in the region, they represent approximately 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extremely poor in Latin America. Also, they still face challenges to gain access to basic services and the adoption of new technologies, a key aspect of increasingly globalized societies.

"Latin America has undergone a profound social transformation that reduced poverty and expanded the middle class, but indigenous peoples benefited less than other Latin Americans," said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. "If we want to achieve our goals of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, we need to fight discrimination and exclusion for all Latin Americans and ensure that all have the same opportunities to live a better life."

Contrary to popular belief, nearly half of Latin America’s indigenous populations now live in urban areas. But even in cities, indigenous people often live in areas that are less secure, less sanitary, and more disaster-prone than non-indigenous urban residents.

To reduce their vulnerabilities more successfully, the report suggests looking at indigenous issues through a different lens which takes into account their voices, cultures, and identities.

“This report acknowledges that indigenous peoples usually have a more nuanced understanding of what development is and why it matters. If indigenous peoples are to assume their role as key actors in the post-2015 agenda, their voices and ideas need to be considered,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, World Bank Senior Director for Social, Urban, Rural & Resilience Global Practice. “Inclusion of indigenous peoples in development policies and programs is not just about poverty reduction – it is the process of improving the ability and opportunity for them to be active stakeholders in society. It is about respecting their cultures and their dignity. Their inclusion is morally right and economically smart for nations.”

In countries with large urban indigenous populations, the percentage of indigenous persons holding high-skill and stable jobs is two to three times smaller than the percentage of non-indigenous people. It is more likely for indigenous people in cities to work in low-skill / low-paying jobs in the informal sector, limiting their access to benefits such as social security, health insurance, and retirement funds.

Education, which has been one of the most important advances in the last decade, is one of the solutions proposed in the report, although efforts are needed to increase its quality and make it culturally appropriate and bilingual.

The latest available census data shows that in 2010 there were about 42 million indigenous people in Latin America, making up nearly 8 percent of the total population. Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia had the largest populations, with more than 80 percent of the regional total, or 34 million.


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