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The Population of the Central American Isthmus in 2003 Conference Papers

The California Center for Population Research is a multidisciplinary Center for demographic research and graduate training. Founded in 1998, the Center is a cooperative venture of UCLA faculty from a variety of disciplines, including Economics, Geography, Medicine, Public Health, Public Policy, and Sociology. The Center receives financial support from the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences and from faculty research grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

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Cover page of Left Behind in the Economic Crisis: Poverty Among the Elderly in Costa Rica (Translation of Spanish Version)

Left Behind in the Economic Crisis: Poverty Among the Elderly in Costa Rica (Translation of Spanish Version)


The economic crisis at the beginning of the eighties impacted 20th-century Costa Rica in

many different ways. Government programs were successful in reducing the proportion

of poor people from 35% in 1985 to 23% in 2000. This article utilizes official Household

Surveys corresponding to the period 1981-2002 and Population Censuses to perform

an estimation of age, cohort, and period effects, in order to show that poverty among

the elderly can be understood as a cohort effect. Their poverty conditions are

associated with their low schooling, mainly among men. The probability of having the

right to a retirement pension and the fact that individuals with lower educational levels

earned low income during their later working years, intervene in the relationship

between schooling and poverty as a cohort effect.

Soon after the end of the civil war in 1948, Costa Rica underwent political and economic

changes that aided the expansion of the social benefits initialized in the 40’s, such as

universalizing Social Security, promoting health and educational policy, and providing

infrastructure and services to both rural and urban communities. Nevertheless, at the

end of the 70’s, increasing oil prices had a strong negative impact on many countries

around the world. Costa Rica was no exception, and during the 1980 – 1982 period it

went through an economic crisis characterized by hyperinflation, increased

unemployment and underemployment rates, and the declaration of a moratorium on foreign debt payments (Barahona Montero 1999a). The governments after 1982 were

relatively successful in promoting economic recovery by changing the development

model based on import substitution to one promoting non-traditional product exports

and tourism (Barahona Montero 1999a, González Mejía 1999). In spite of the recovery

and public policies designed to combat poverty, since 1991, it has not been possible to

reduce the proportion of poor households below 18%, maintaining an annual average of

around 20%.2 In addition, economists consider that within this one-fifth of the nation’s

population, there is a group of “hard-core poor”, i.e., persons who systematically live on

a minimal income, and who cannot easily climb out of their chronic condition (Proyecto

Estado de la Nación-PEN 2002).

One group in which the proportion of poor is relatively high with regard to the rest of the

population is that of the elderly: 31% of individuals 65 or more years of age live in

households with incomes below the poverty line, according to the 2002 Encuesta de

Hogares (National Household Survey). The objective of this paper is to show that if

poverty among the elderly is associated with structural characteristics within this group

of the population, its incidence can be represented as a cohort effect. In other words, a

large percentage of the Costa Rican elderly would be living in poverty, not because old

age leads to poverty, but because the characteristics that they acquired throughout their

lives – given the historical moments they lived – make them more susceptible to being

poor, in comparison with other groups born more recently. In order to provide separate

estimates of the cohort, age, and period effects, we consolidated the Encuestas de

Hogares from 1980 to 2002, whose basic dependent variable is the proportion of

persons living in poor households. The paper presents variations of these effects

produced by the inclusion of certain independent variables in the model, in particular the

level of education of the cohorts. It also emphasizes the importance of the economic

crisis at the beginning of the 80’s on the incidence of poverty among the elderly, and at

the end of the paper, we relate this phenomenon to educational levels among these

generations and their access to Social Security.

Cover page of Fertility and the Environment in a Natural Resource Dependent Economy: Evidence from Petén, Guatemala

Fertility and the Environment in a Natural Resource Dependent Economy: Evidence from Petén, Guatemala


This paper examines potential relations between factors related to fertility and the access to and use of natural resources in Petén, Guatemala. The Petén forms the heart of the Selva Maya, the largest lowland humid forest in Mesoamerica. The rapid inmigration of subsistence maize farmers has converted much of the Petén’s forests to agricultural fields. Population dynamics have been transformed in that virtually all farm families have arrived since the 1970s and that total fertility rates exceed the national rural mean. Continued migration, exceptionally high fertility, a youthful population, and a large consumer to producer ratio are hypothesized to be related to the dramatic land cover dynamics shaping the landscape of the Petén. An emerging body of literature suggests that environmental factors can affect fertility decision-making and behaviors, especially in natural resource dependent economies like that of the Petén. This paper examines these relationships using data from the 1998/99 Demographic Health Survey in Guatemala. Data on natural resource access and utilization were collected as part of an environment module, in addition to demographic and health information. This dataset, the first ever environmental module of the Demographic Health Survey, provides a unique opportunity to examine possible relationships between fertility and the environment in a tropical agricultural frontier.

Cover page of Impact of Formal Education of Women on Reproductive Behavior in Four Socio-Cultural Contexts in the Soconusco Region of Chiapas (Translation of Spanish Version)

Impact of Formal Education of Women on Reproductive Behavior in Four Socio-Cultural Contexts in the Soconusco Region of Chiapas (Translation of Spanish Version)


This paper analyzes demographic changes that occurred between 1977 and

1996, in four socio-cultural contexts in the Soconusco Region of Chiapas, Mexico. It is

based on a socio-demographic random sample survey that compiled primary (1139

household groups) and secondary (population and agricultural census) information.

The results based on cohort analysis provide evidence for the existence of

various fertility trends among the different socio-cultural contexts. In average urban

settlements, fertility has remained low stable, and in rural indigenous settlements it has

also remained stable, but high. Only in rural mestizo and marginal urban communities

have there been overall and significant fertility declines. In marginal urban settlements,

in spite of showing a generalized fertility decline, adolescent fertility has increased.

These trends are closely related to the changes in schooling levels achieved by

females, particularly with secondary or higher education, as well as with modifications in

the age at first union. There has been a reduction in the proportion of women

completing secondary education in all of the socio-cultural contexts, which goes handin-

hand with the economic polarization of the region.

Based on models of impact evaluation, it is possible to conclude that due to the

characteristics of the Soconusco “with elevated macroeconomic development and deep

social polarization”, the State’s efforts must be primordially oriented to improving the lot

of the population, especially with regards to average education of women.