Only 5% of agricultural workers in Mexico are white, while almost 30% of white-collar workers are. Only 5% of agricultural workers in Mexico are white, while almost 30% of white-collar workers are. Carlos Jasso/Reuters

People with white skin better off in MX: study

Darker-skinned Mexicans are not as well educated and earn less

For centuries, the United States has been engaged in a thorny, stop-and-go conversation about race and inequality in American society. And from Black Lives Matter demonstrations to NFL players protesting police violence, public discussions on racism continue in full force today.


That’s not the case in Mexico. Mexicans have divergent ancestry, including Spanish, African, indigenous and German. And while skin color in Mexico ranges from white to black, most people – 53% – identify as mestizo, or mixed race.

In Mexico, inequality, though rampant, has long been viewed as a problem related to ethnicity or socioeconomic status, not race.

Our new report suggests that assumption is wrong. Published in November, “Is Mexico a Post-Racial Country?” reveals that in Mexico darker skin is strongly associated with decreased wealth and less schooling. Indeed, race is the single most important determinant of a Mexican citizen’s economic and educational attainment, our results show.

The study, published last month by the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University, or LAPOP, drew on data from the university’s Americas Barometer, a poll of 34 nations across North, Central and South America, as well the Caribbean.

To capture information on race, which is often not reflected in Latin American census data, the pollsters themselves categorized respondents’ face skin tone on a standardized 11-point scale that ranges from darkest to lightest.

We were fascinated to see that the Mexico data clearly showed people with white skin completing more years of schooling than those with browner skin – 10 years versus 6.5. That’s a stunning 45% gap in educational achievement between the darkest and lightest-skinned Mexicans.


Darker-skinned Mexicans surveyed had also completed fewer years of schooling than the survey’s average nationwide finding of nine years.

Wealth, we found, similarly correlates to skin color. The average Mexican household income in the LAPOP study was about US $193 a month. Citizens with lighter skin reported bringing in more than that – on average, $220 a month. Darker-skinned citizens, on the other hand, earned just $137 – 41.5% less than their white compatriots.

Overall, populations identified as having the lightest skin fall into the highest wealth brackets in Mexico, while those with the darkest skin are concentrated at the bottom. These dynamics, other studies have found, seem to persist across generations.

Similar disparities emerged when we examined other measures of economic well-being, such as material possessions – like refrigerators and telephones – and basic amenities.

For example, only 2.5% of white Mexicans surveyed by Vanderbilt’s pollsters don’t have running water, while upwards of 11% of dark-skinned citizens said they lack this basic necessity. Likewise, just 7.5% of white Mexicans reported lacking an in-home bathroom, versus 20% of dark-skinned Mexicans.

Our findings complicate the results of numerous prior studies showing that Mexicans do not perceive skin color as a meaningful source of prejudice in their lives.

According to a 2010 national survey on discrimination, Mexicans believe that age, gender and social class have a greater impact on their daily lives than race.

This perception likely relates to the country’s tradition of celebrating its raza mestiza, or multiracial heritage. Just last September, President Enrique Peña Nieto declared el mestizaje – racial mixing – as “the future of humanity.”

The data paints a much less rosy picture. Race, it turns out, has a greater impact on a Mexican’s human development and capital accumulation than any other demographic variable. Our results show that Mexico’s “skin-color gap” is two times the achievement gap documented between northern and southern Mexicans, which is an inequality more often cited in Mexico.

It is also five times greater than the urban-rural divide reported in the poll. We even found that skin color has a significantly greater impact on wealth and education than does ethnicity – that is, indigenous versus white or mixed-race Mexican.

Our results add to a growing body of academic research highlighting a reality the government doesn’t want to admit: racism exists in Mexico.

Racial and ethnic biases have so far been documented in Mexico’s allocation of public resources, politics and, notably, the labor market.

A recent report from the National Statistics Institute, for example, finds that white people comprise 27% of all white-collar workers and just 5% of the agricultural sector.

Occasionally, some high-profile incident will bring Mexico’s racism to light. For example, there was an outcry in 2013 when Aeroméxico, Mexico’s most important airline, issued a commercial casting call saying that “nadie moreno” – no dark-skinned people – need to audition.

More often, though, racism is ignored or explained away. Many Mexicans, for example, argue that dark-skinned Mexicans tend to belong to ethnic, cultural and linguistic minorities and live in historically disadvantaged areas, like the rural south and the heavily indigenous high mountains.

Since this is the case, they reason, data that appears to show race-based inequality in Mexico is actually capturing class, ethnic and regional inequalities.

Although the premise of this argument holds true, the conclusion is incorrect. Our study accounted for gender, age, region of residence and ethnic origin – and still skin color emerged as a powerful determinant of wealth and education levels.

A second critique of racism in Mexico is that yes, it exists, but it is not as bad as in other places in the region, like Brazil or the United States.

Our study runs contrary to that argument. Among nations surveyed in the Americas Barometer, Mexico ranks fourth in terms of the negative impact of skin tone on an individual’s wealth, behind Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador.

On the relationship between race and lower levels of education, Mexico moves up one spot to trail only Ecuador and Trinidad and Tobago. Indeed, the sole place in the Americas where people of color seem to fare worse overall than in Mexico is Ecuador, where Americas Barometer data shows that having dark skin reduces educational achievement by one year more than it does in Mexico.

This is in stark contrast to countries like Chile and Costa Rica, where race appears to have only a minor impact on wealth and education.

Our analysis unambiguously disproves the notion that Mexico is somehow so mixed race – so mestizo – as to be race-blind. Quite to the contrary: racism is a severe social challenge that people in society and government would do well to take more seriously.

The ConversationGoing forward, our research will focus on examining the origins of this problem, from employer discrimination to access to health care. That should help lawmakers design policies to reduce inequalities based on skin color.

Daniel Zizumbo-Colunga is assistant professor of drug policy at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and a research assistant professor at Vanderbilt University.  a research assistant in the drug policy program at CIDE, contributed to the article, which was originally published on The Conversation.

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  • cooncats

    By all means, let’s get busy dividing up Mexicans by race. That is working so well in the U.S. in case you hadn’t noticed.

    • ben

      a 24/7 US media/academia/hollywood anti white obsession. here in small town MX they have more important things to think about. if they are thinking about “it” then its behind closed doors. you usually get the “message” when it comes to pricing. 🙂 bennie

    • BB

      In other words, just keep it quiet and sweep this inequality under the rug?

  • zihuarob

    Spurious relationships do not revealing statistics make. I’ve lived in Guerrero for over 28 years and I could not disagree more with the conclusions drawn from their statistics. The fact that lighter-skinned people, a clear minority in Mexico, appear to be better educated or wealthier has more to do with history than with discrimination based on skin color. Racism is a non-issue for the most part. Always has been since the first mestizos were lovingly raised by their Criollo parents.

    • Güerito

      And that history of which you speak was free of racism??

      “Racism is a non-issue for the most part,” says El Bolillo Rob.

      • zihuarob

        Thanks for the insult. The common reply of the poorly educated. Saludos.

        • Güerito

          I just can’t believe a white guy from north of the border would have the gall to say racism is a “non-issue” in Mexico.

          You sound like a redneck in the South in the 1950’s.

  • panama_jack

    Please do not follow the obsession of racism as is currently tearing America apart.

    • BB

      Hhmm! I wonder why! Could it be that some human beings are inherently racist?

      • panama_jack

        If you believe only whites are racist then you are part of the problem.

  • kallen

    Old news to the observant; just look at billboard advertising, commercials, in-store advertising – any sort of visual advertising….it’s always light skinned people, never meztiso.

    • Güerito

      After living in Mexico for about ten years, I reached the conclusion that it must be illegal in Mexico to have mestizos or indigenas in advertising or media of any sort.

      If you want to see brown Mexicans represented in media, you need to look to the US, but mostly those born in the US. The Mexicans with high media profiles in the US are part of the usual ruling white class in Mexico. Just look at the Oscar nominations and wins, etc.

      • ben

        they dont buy most of the products advertised. got a problem? sorry, theres no civil rights org for you to complain too.

    • ben

      they range from very white to light brown. the ads are not targeting the lower income braket. thats not their demographic. there is no “agenda” in MX about race. its not used for social engineering as in europe/US

      • Güerito

        Mestizos and indigenas make up almost 90% of the Mexican population. And we’re talking about telenovelas and the commericials on the major Mexican networks, that do, indeed, try to reach this non-white market.

        We’re not talking ads for yachts, Jaguar automobiles or other luxury items. We’re talking about ads for cleaning products, canned food items, soft drinks, supermarkets, etc. Yet in these ads, the actors are all white.

        I’ve noted before here, there is a small segment of Mexican television advertising where you occasionally will see brown faces: public service ads, reminding Mexicans to vote or tellling them how great their corrupt government is, etc.

  • Güerito

    The Sky is Blue: study

    Water is Wet: study

    The Pope is Catholic: study

    You get the idea…

    • DreadFool

      I get the idea, except for “the pope is catholic..” where did you read that?

  • WestCoastHwy

    I look at the UV INDEX and it clearly states that dark skinned people have the advantage over lighter skinned people in UV intense areas where there are longer growing seasons and abundant amounts of water (Tropical areas). But it is known that areas of less intense UV and shorter growing seasons have evolved a more complex divergent ancestry. Now jump to the 21st Century in the Americas and “WHAM” this complex divergent ancestry now rules. Biology, study it sometime.

  • I find it interesting that on Mexican telenovelas the rich people are almost always white, and the hired hands and maids are invariably brown.

    • zihuarob

      I find it even more interesting that on Mexican novelas the most likeable characters with the most enriching lives and who display the most common sense are invariable those same darker-skinned folks you refer to. Saludos.

    • Güerito

      The truth is, they usually even have white Mexicans playing the hired help!

  • Jeff Swanson

    OK I am going to chime in, I RESENT right away the folks here who bring up US “Racism”
    Time to face the facts, AND as the smarter posters have posted here, as I spent countless hundreds of hours “Rotting” in bank lines in Mexico, (another story, another day) I was happy to be bombarded while I waited with endless bank commercials on the endless video monitors covering the bank walls.
    Featuring “ALL WHITE” actors! IF you saw the SAME commercial in the USA, albeit the Spanish being spoken, you would swear on your mothers grave, they were all “NORDIC” !
    YOU DON”T get anywhere in Mexico, job wise, acting wise, career wise unless you are white, SOMEHOW the quintessential, seemly dirty “dark” Mexican don’t sell or sit well with the public!
    All the ever popular “Soap’s” (Novellas) as pointed out here are ALL white actors!
    The person cleaning the toilet or killing the serpant in garden about to bite the precious “WHITE CHILD” of the owner, who always are the “dark” skinned, and in the show act stupid, and uneducated, which is really not an act at all.
    The “liberals” here can not admit, that “MEXICO” IS racist, MEXICAN CULTURE IS RACIST !!!
    There is a new story here on the daily about this fact, READ IT!
    The “MEXICANS” have and do divide people up by race and “Worship” white skin, as the world does, wants those genes as a friend put it! White skin, blond hair, blue eyes, you know the endangered human species on this planet.
    As stated here you have to go to the “RACIST” (Donald trumps) AMERICA to see real Mexicans portrayed on Tv, as they really are too, a bonus! Sad but true, you ain’t gonna see it in Mexico!

    • zihuarob


    • Frank Black

      You say that ‘The “MEXICANS” . . . . “Worship” white skin’. A curious statement, since the overwhelmingly most important religious figure in Mexico is the Virgin of Guadalupe… dark skinned.

  • Güerito

    Looks like we have more censoring of dissenting opinions going on here….

  • DeplorableVI

    THeres more wealthy multi millionaire afroamericans in the US than all of africa.

  • panama_jack

    There are politicians and media who feed on the perpetuation of racism for their own ends. They pretend they are above racism and feed upon the public’s fears to further their own agendas.
    Does racism exist, of course but I firmly believe the world is moving forward in race relations regardless of the media morass of racial stories.
    America just had a president who if you disagreed with him inferred that race played a factor. Meaning it was racist to disagree with him which in itself is incredibly racist.
    After 8 years of his race insanity to disagree with a person of a different race is racist. To not want an open border is racist.