Demographic Responses to Economic Adjustment in Latin America

By G. Tapinos; A. Mason et al. | Go to book overview

10 Economic Recession and Changing Determinants of Women's Work

BRÍGIDA GARCÍA AND ORLANDINA DE OLIVEIRA


Introduction

In 1982, Mexico, like other Latin American countries, began to experience a severe economic recession. Since the mid-1970s the country's economic development, which was based on import substitution, had begun to face difficulties. Public and private investment were at a minimum; fiscal imbalance, inflation and capital flight began to be pronounced. The currency was devalued for the first time in two decades.

In spite of the above, Mexico experienced economic growth towards the end of the 1970s, but this was mainly due to a transitory oil boom. The government began to rely heavily on spending and borrowing in world capital markets; the foreign debt consequently reached unprecedented levels.

At the beginning of the 1980s, oil prices fell, world interest rates rose, and commercial banks stopped lending to the third world. Mexico faced this severe crisis by adopting a set of strict adjustment and reform policies directed towards restoring fiscal balance, promoting exports, liberalizing external trade, and deregulating markets. The negative effects of the debt crisis and the adjustment policies were a series of devaluations of the Mexican currency, high inflation, a severe depression in real wages, and a serious reduction in economic growth. In 1989, the gross domestic product per capita was 9 per cent below the 1980 level; during the same period the real minimum wage declined by 47 per cent. Inflation peaked in 1987 when some estimates placed it above at 150 per cent annually, at which point it began a sustained decline which has continued until the present ( Sheahan 1991; CEPAL 1990; Lustig 1992).

The decline in real wages, combined with the deficient social security system and the reduction in subsidies to basic products, have given rise to a clear deterioration in the standards of living of the population. 'The crisis and its aftermath have probably left Mexico with a relatively impoverished middle class, an increasing number of poor households and the poor worse off than before' ( Lustig 1992: 95). More visible now is the unequal and exclusionary character of the country's development, which, even in its years of expansion, was characterized by a concentration

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