Measuring Up: A History of Living Standards in Mexico, 1850-1950

Measuring Up: A History of Living Standards in Mexico, 1850-1950

Measuring Up: A History of Living Standards in Mexico, 1850-1950

Measuring Up: A History of Living Standards in Mexico, 1850-1950


Measuring Up traces the high levels of poverty and inequality that Mexico faced in the mid-twentieth century. Using newly developed multidisciplinary techniques, the book provides a perspective on living standards in Mexico prior to the first measurement of income distribution in 1957. By offering an account of material living conditions and their repercussions on biological standards of living between 1850 and 1950, it sheds new light on the life of the marginalized during this period.

Measuring Up shows that new methodologies allow us to examine the history of individuals who were not integrated into the formal economy. Using anthropometric history techniques, the book assesses how a large portion of the population was affected by piecemeal policies and flaws in the process of economic modernization and growth. It contributes to our understanding of the origins of poverty and inequality, and conveys a much-needed, long-term perspective on the living conditions of the Mexican working classes.


In twenty-first-century Mexico, politicians of the new democratic era are not shy about openly stating that poverty and inequality are the root causes of the old and new social problems the country suffers. During electoral campaigns, politicians of all levels (federal, state, and municipal) and of all parties repeatedly promise they will enact poverty-alleviation programs more effectively than their predecessors. This political rhetoric has become commonplace since the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) lost the presidential elections for the first time in 2000. Whereas studies of poverty have certainly commented about its contemporary extent, historical overviews of antipoverty policies and their impact on the population are as novel as the ubiquity of poverty-alleviation promises in electoral campaigns is common. Existing studies on poverty in Mexico reveal limitations not only in scope, but also in analyzing the effectiveness of past government policies. Moreover, most studies fail to contextualize these issues in terms of national, world, and scientific events. Electoral speeches can be taken as recognition of the state of affairs of poverty and inequality in Mexico at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Measuring Up shows how new Research tools and an interdisciplinary perspective enable us to delve more deeply into the roles that governmental policies have played in connection with nutrition, health, and poverty, as well as how these various elements intersect, in the century between 1850 and 1950.

Although today it is acceptable to acknowledge the degree of poverty and inequality prevailing in Mexico and blame former administrations for it, it is important to recall that each administration in turn established programs to combat the conditions leading to poverty. For example, on December 12, 1988, at the beginning of his presidential administration, Carlos Salinas de Gortari created the National Solidarity Program (PRONASOL), which was designed to foster social development.

At the time, the economic crisis that had hit Mexico hard throughout the 1980s had substantially decreased the real wages of the working classes, the number of people falling into extreme poverty was rapidly increasing . . .

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