Latin America and the Caribbean

Experts meeting: Middle class & development in Latin America


26 - 27 April 2010
OECD Conference Centre, Room CC5
Paris, France

This Experts’ Meeting is intended to generate critical feedback on ongoing background work for the Latin American Economic Outlook 2011: Middle Class and Development in Latin America (LEO 2011), gather new insights from both academia and practitioners and provide a platform for dialogue on key issues surrounding middle class, social mobility and income distribution in Latin America.


LEO 2011 builds on the work related to income distribution and social mobility already carried out by the OECD, the OECD Development Centre, as well as other leading institutions. Its objective is to look at the key issues of inequality and poverty through the lens of public policies affecting the size and nature of the middle class in the region. The meeting will be divided into the following sessions:


Day 1 - April 26

Session I: Macro Overview : Latin America in 2011

Latin American countries had built significant resilience to withstand the global crisis in 2009. Participants will address the following questions:

  • How much policy room was left after the hit?
  • Crises are always expensive, how did this global crisis affected the main aggregate balance sheets in the region?
  • In particular, how financially exposed were public and private agents (households and firms) throughout this crisis? Where do they stand today?
  • What are the policy lessons for sustainable development in the region?


Session II: Defining Middle Class in Latin America

This session aims primarily to dispel some myths about the middle class in Latin America by analyzing measurement issues relating to the size of the middle class, by proposing some interclass social mobility indicators and by exploring the characteristics of the Latin America middle class. Participants will address the following questions:

  • How is the middle class defined?
  • Is the middle class in Latin America mobile? How many of those who were middle class some years ago are middle class now?
  • Who is middle class in Latin America? What are their characteristics in terms of occupational choice, levels of education, family and living arrangements, entrepreneurship, etc?


Day 2 - April 27


Session III: Pensions & Informality: Fighting Backwards Social Mobility

The high levels of labour informality in Latin America might explain not only the reduced size of the middle class in the region, but also a vicious interaction with the existing social protection systems. This session will analyse likely social protection policies that avoid downward mobility at retirement age. Participants will address the following questions:

  • How many middle class citizens are informal?
  • Are pension systems adequate for middle class citizens?
  • Which second generation pension reforms may help to fight downward mobility in a context of high informality?


Session IV: Fiscal impact on income distribution & Fiscal Legitimacy in the middle class

This session will explore the role of middle class as a bastion of democratic consolidation in Latin America. This session tackles the issue from two perspectives: on one hand the perceptions of the population regarding fiscal legitimacy and on the other hand the empirical evidence on the actual impact of the fiscal burden for the middle class. Participants will address the following questions:

  • What is the attitude of the middle class with respect to democracy? How do these aspects interact with the issues of fiscal legitimacy?
  • How does the perception of social mobility affect the attitude towards democracy and the role of the public sector (provision of services, taxation and redistribution)?
  • Does the middle class carry an excessive burden of financing the State or is it a net beneficiary of government policies?


Session V: Education as a tool for Social mobility

This session will document the low levels of educational mobility in the region and discuss the potential of education policy to increase upward social mobility in the region. By exploring the importance of family socio-economic background on educational and labour market outcomes this session will try to find best practices to make education an effective tool for the middle class and upward mobility. Participants will address the following questions:

  • How does parental education and family conditions affect educational outcomes in the region? Does the middle class have access to education in similar terms as the better-off?
  • To what extent does access to education translate into better opportunities in the labour market? Is the problem primarily of endowments (quantity of education) or returns (quality of education)?
  • What are the best instruments to create more opportunities for the poor and the middle class? Which instruments at each level (early childhood, secondary, tertiary) are the most effective?


Session VI: Policy Session

This session will consist of a roundtable discussion led by Latin American policy makers. The aim of this session is to provide a set of practical policy recommendations to increase upward mobility and strengthen social safety nets for the middle class in Latin America. Participants will address the following questions:

  • What are the practical implications for policy makers?
  • What are the best practices in Latin America in promoting upward mobility while limiting downward flows for vulnerable households?
  • What can Latin America and the OECD learn from each other?



Experts Meeting's Agenda

List of invitees


Related Documents