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Mexico has made tremendous progress over the last decade in terms of improving the quality of life of its citizens, especially in the areas of education, health and jobs. Notwithstanding, Mexico ranks low in a large number of topics relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Mexico, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 12 732 USD a year, less than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn nearly thirteen times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, nearly 60% of people aged 15 to 64 in Mexico have a paid job, lower than the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 78% of men are in paid work, compared with 43% of women. People in Mexico work 2 250 hours a year, more than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Almost 29% of employees work very long hours, much more than the OECD average of 9%, with 35% of men working very long hours compared with 18% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Mexico, 36% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, much lower than the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 38% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 35% of women. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 420 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), lower than the OECD average of 497. On average in Mexico, girls outperformed boys by 2 points, less than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Mexico is almost 74 years, six years lower than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 77 years, compared with 71 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 33 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably higher than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. Mexico also performs below the OECD average in terms of water quality, as 78% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, below the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and level of civic participation in Mexico, where 76% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, lower than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 63% during recent elections, lower than the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; but in Mexico there is little difference across society. Voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 63% and for the bottom 20% it is 61%, suggesting there is broad social inclusion in Mexico’s democratic institutions
In general, Mexicans are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 85% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Mexico 2013
This Environmental Performance Review of Mexico provides an independent assessment of Mexico's progress in achieving its domestic and international environmental commitments, together with policy-relevant recommendations.Read this report
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Mexico in Detail
Housing – Mexico expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In Mexico, households on average spend 18% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, below the OECD average of 21%.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In Mexico, 83% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, less than the OECD average of 87%. This low level of subjective satisfaction reflects Mexico’s mixed performance in objective housing indicators.
The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Mexico, the average home contains one room per person, less than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person and one of the lowest rates in the OECD. In terms of basic facilities, 95.8% of people in Mexico live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, less than the OECD average of 97.8%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Mexico expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after tax. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Mexico, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 12 732USD a year, lower than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Mexico, the average household net financial wealth is considerably lower than the OECD average of 40 516 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In Mexico, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 32 756 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 2 570 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Mexico expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In Mexico, close to 60% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is lower than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Mexico an estimated 70% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 58% for those without an upper secondary education. This 12 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average difference of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Mexico is relatively inclusive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Mexico, 43% of women have jobs. This is less than the OECD average of 60% and much less than the 78% employment rate of men in Mexico. This 35 percentage point gender difference is much higher than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests employment opportunities for women could be improved.
Young people aged 15-24 in Mexico face an unemployment rate of 9.8% compared with the OECD average of 16.2%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In Mexico, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 0.1%, much lower than the OECD average of 3.1% and one of the lowest rates in the OECD. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In Mexico, the long-term unemployment rate for men and women is nearly the same.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Mexico, people earn 9 885 US dollars per year on average, much less than the OECD average of 34 466 USD and the lowest rate in the OECD.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts are more vulnerable than workers with an open-ended contract. In Mexico, around 21% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, much higher than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests greater stabilisation of working contracts could be encouraged for Mexican employees.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Mexico expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in Mexico spend 1 minute per day in volunteering activities, less than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 46% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, less than the OECD average of 48%.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In Mexico, 76% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, one of the lowest rates in the OECD where the average is 90%. There is little difference between men and women, as 75% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 76% of women. While gender has little impact on social network support, there is a clear relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level, on the other. In Mexico, 71% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 87% for people who attained tertiary education.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Mexico expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Most concretely, having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with just below 56% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In Mexico, 36% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, much lower than the OECD average of 74%. This is slightly truer of men than women, as 38% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 35% of women. This 3 percentage point difference is slightly higher than the OECD average of 2 percentage points. Among younger people – a better indicator of Mexico’s future – 44% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, still lower than the OECD average of 82% but showing progress.
Mexicans can expect to go through 14.9 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, less than the OECD average of 16.5 years and one of the lowest in the OECD.
The Mexican educational system has grown rapidly in the last fifty years, from three million students to more than 30 million. Today, nearly all children between the ages of 5 and 14 are in school. There has also been progress in ensuring that young people finish school, with rates increasing from 33% in 2000 to 42% in 2005. This progress has been achieved despite tight budgets and a rapidly growing school-age population, including 15% who live on less than 2 USD per day.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, as research shows that reading skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in Mexico scored 420 out of 600 in reading literacy, maths and science, much lower than the OECD average of 497 and the lowest rate in the OECD. On average in Mexico, girls outperformed boys by 2 points, lower than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Mexico, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background, is 89 points, lower than the OECD average of 99 points. This suggests the school system in Mexico provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Mexico expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Mexico, PM10 levels are 32.6 micrograms per cubic meter, much higher than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In Mexico, only 78% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Mexico still faces difficulties in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Mexico expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Mexico, only 38% of people say they trust their political institutions, much less than the OECD average of 56% and the lowest rate in the OECD area. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in Mexico was 63% of those registered. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in Mexico, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar, at respectively 65% and 61%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Mexico, however the difference is small as voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 63%, compared with an estimated 61% for the bottom 20%. This 2 percentage point difference is much lower than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and suggests there is broad social inclusion in Mexico’s democratic institutions.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. People in Mexico can file a request for information either in writing, online, or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. Mexico is one of six OECD countries to protect individuals from any possible retaliation, but does not allow for anonymous requests.
Despite substantial progress, problems with the rule of law remain Mexico’s greatest obstacle to growth. Using a comparison of Mexico with the ten fastest growing countries shows the rule of law weakening between 1996 and 2007 in both absolute and relative terms. The enforceability of contracts, in particular, is weak.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Mexico expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. In particular, Mexico has seen dramatic improvements in life expectancy (of more than 17 years) and a steady decline in infant mortality rates. Nonetheless, at 74 years life expectancy remains six years below the OECD average of 80 years and the lowest in the OECD. Life expectancy for women is 77 years, compared with 71 for men, in line with the 6 year average gender gap in OECD countries, with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 6.2% of GDP in Mexico, more than three percentage points lower than the average of 9.5% in OECD countries and the second lowest share among OECD countries after Turkey. Although public spending on health in Mexico has more than doubled since 1995, it remains low by international standards. Mexico also ranks well below the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 916 USD in 2009, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Mexicoincreased in real terms by 4.1% per year on average, a slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%. This growth rate then slowed down to 1.5% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain important risk factors for many chronic diseases. The proportion of daily smokers among adults has shown a marked decline over the past twenty-five years in most OECD countries. Smoking rates among adults in Mexico stand at 13.3%, the lowest rate across the OECD where the average is of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. Obesity rates have increased in recent decades in all OECD countries, to reach an average of 17.8%, although with 30.0% of the adult Mexican population reported as obese, the Mexican rate is second only to the US level. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma) and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?” 66% of people in Mexico reported to be in good health, lower than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 71% for men and 66% for women. In Mexico, the average is 67% for men and 64% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Improved health coverage with Seguro Popular
One third of the population, mostly in low-income groups, has no health insurance. The uninsured are less likely to receive appropriate preventive care and timely treatment when sick, which results in higher spending, often out-of-pocket, and worse outcomes. The government is aiming for universal health coverage in 2011 by further expanding Seguro Popular, a program that provides financial assistance to low-income families and has been successful in increasing coverage by about 25% of the population since 2004.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Mexico expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Mexicans gave it a 7.3 grade, higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in Mexico, where both men and women gave their life a 7.3 grade. Education levels, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Mexico have a life satisfaction level of 6.6, this score reaches 8.0 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In Mexico 85% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Mexico expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In Mexico, 13% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, much more than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a difference of over 5 percentage points between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 15.4% and 9.9%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, Mexico’s homicide rate has increased from 7 per 100,000 in 2002 to 23.7 today, much higher than the OECD average of 2.2 and the highest in the OECD. In Mexico, men are far more likely to be murder victims than women, as the homicide rate for men is 44.5 compared with 4.8 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In Mexico, 72% of people feel safe walking alone at night, slightly higher than the OECD average of 67%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – Mexico expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer on unpaid domestic work. Men in Mexico, spend 113 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, less than the OECD average of 131 minutes and less than a third of the time spent by Mexican women on domestic work, 373 minutes per day on average.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in Mexico work 2 250 hours a year, the highest rate in the OECD where the average is 1 776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In Mexico, however, nearly 29% of employees work very long hours, one of the highest levels in the OECD where the average is 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Mexico 35% of men work very long hours, compared with 18% for women.
Better Policies for Better Lives
More public support to families with children is needed
Mexico could strengthen its policies to enhance the well-being of families and children. Public support in family benefits and services are key for mobilising female employment, reducing poverty risks, promoting child development and improving gender equity.
Apart from Israel, Mexico has the highest child poverty rate in the OECD. More than 1 in 4 Mexican children lived in poor households in 2008 (25.8%); well above the OCED average of 1 in 8 (12.7%) children. In the early 2000s, child poverty rates fell noticeably in Mexico, in part due to an expansion of social programmes such as Oportunidades.
Child-related leave entitlements are limited. Maternity leave, although paid at 100% of last earnings, lasts just 12 weeks and only covers women in formal employment. No other form of parental leave, including for fathers, is available. Efforts to increase childcare (Programa de Estancias Infantiles para Madres Trabajadoras) and pre-school enrolment rates (by implementing compulsory pre-school education) have translated into higher participation rates. But more can be done, childcare enrolment rates among under-3’s remain considerably low (6% compared with an OECD average of 31%), and access to high quality and affordable care is central for facilitating parental employment.
Gender gaps in paid and unpaid work in Mexico are among the largest in the OECD area. Female employment rates, though modestly increasing, are the lowest in the OECD after Turkey (43% of Mexican women are in paid work compared to an OECD average of 60%). At home, Mexican women spend 4 hours per day more on unpaid work than men. Gender roles constitute a barrier to women’s and Mexico’s economic opportunities.