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How level is the playing field between countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Oscar Calvo-González's picture
Also available in: Español | Portuguese

In less than a generation the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region has made great progress in expanding the basic public services that are necessary for children to succeed later in life. The skills, knowledge and health accumulated by individuals by the time they reach adulthood are essential to get jobs, accelerate economic mobility, and reduce inequality in the long-run. The progress observed in LAC ranges from increased access to healthcare and schools to running water and electricity. But progress has also been uneven, both across countries and for different types of basic services.

Today, the playing field in Latin America is most level in access to electricity, where we have seen gaps in coverage narrow the most. Figure 1 below shows how the typical performance in the region (the median) compares with the country in the region with the highest level of coverage (labeled “best in class”) in three basic services for children. The focus on children makes it possible to determine that any difference in access would be mostly due to circumstances out of their control. In the case of access to electricity the regional median has not only converged towards the best performing country but it has now reached a coverage of 99 percent.

In other dimensions, such as water and sanitation, access is far from equal among countries. In both cases gaps in access between the best performer and the median country closed significantly from 2000 to 2014. However, access in the median country remains far from universal, indicating significant room for improvement. It is important to note also that in the case of water half the countries in the region fall below the median and a large number of countries have not observed even the partial convergence to the best performer.

Finally, we have also seen improvements but lack of convergence in the case of completed primary school rates among children aged 12 to 16. Even though access improved for the most countries, the median country has not been able to catch-up with the best performer.

Overall, the important increase in access to basic services and education in the region for the past 15 years reflect the policies that have been put in place. At the same time, this data indicates that there is still much to be done. In addition to improving access in general, it is also critical to ensure that access is more equitable and to improve the quality of the services provided. A recent study regarding the equity of access to these basics services by the World Bank (“Seeking Opportunities for All: 2016 Human Opportunity Index for Latin America and the Caribbean”) shows that some children, particularly those from low income households and rural households, remain at a disadvantage. This is an urgent agenda today and in the years ahead.

Note: This blog is part of the 'lacfeaturegraph' series from the LAC Equity Lab team. To look at past posts, please visit here.