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CEPAL Review

Cepal Review is the leading journal for the study of economic and social development issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. Edited by the Economic Commission for Latin America, each issue focuses on economic trends, industrialization, income distribution, technological development and monetary systems, as well as the implementation of economic reform and transfer of technology. Written in English and Spanish (Revista de la Cepal), each tri-annual issue offers approximately 12 studies and essays undertaken by authoritative experts or gathered from conference proceedings.

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Education and income distribution in urban Brazil, 1976-1996

Despite tremendous macroeconomic instability, Brazil’s urban income distributions in 1976 and 1996 appear, at first glance, deceptively similar. Mean household income per capita was stagnant, with a minute accumulated growth of 4.3% over the two decades. The Gini coefficient hovered just above 0.59 in both years, and the incidence of poverty (with respect to a poverty line of R$60/month at 1996 prices) was effectively unchanged at 22%. Yet, behind this apparent stability, a powerful combination of labour market, demographic and educational dynamics were at work, one effect of which was to generate a substantial increase in extreme urban poverty. Using a micro-simulation-based decomposition methodology which endogenizes labour incomes, individual occupational choices and education decisions, we show that the distribution of incomes was being affected, on the one hand, by a decline in average returns to both education and experience and by impoverishing changes in the structure of occupations and labour force participation (all of which tended to increase poverty), and on the other hand by an increase in educational endowments across the distribution and a progressive reduction in dependency ratios (both of which tended to reduce poverty).

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