Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Jacqueline Braveboy-Wagner


Poverty, Inequality, Crime


Poverty and economic inequality remain a vexing concern in Latin America. The specter of crime continuously looms, creating a constant state of social discomfort in the region. Latin America has established an unparalleled zone of democracy. The region has also become an economic force.

The prevailing notion regarding the relationship between poverty and inequality with crime and conflict outbreaks is that violence tends to occur in regions where poverty is endemic. Inequality, as it is understood, breeds contempt. In this thesis, I test the hypothesis that extreme levels of poverty and inequality are likely to result in equally high levels of crime and social conflict in Latin America. To test this, correlations were performed in order to determine whether there was a connection between (the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 per day) and crime. Data was culled from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). A correlation test was also performed to show a link between economic inequality measured as the Gini coefficient (using data from The World Bank), and criminal activity. With respect to the nexus between poverty and inequality and social conflict, the lack of time series data on social conflicts, i.e. general strikes, demonstrations, and riots, dictated a more qualitative approach to assessing the relationship in the only years available, 2008 and 2012.

The findings were as follows: In Latin America’s two most unequal countries, Colombia and Brazil, there was no significant correlation between inequality and crime. With respect to Brazil, a significant correlation exists between poverty and crime. In Uruguay, Latin America’s least unequal country, the correlation between poverty and crime was significant, but there was no significant correlation between inequality and crime. In El Salvador, Latin America’s second least unequal country, there was no correlation between poverty and crime. However, there was a significant correlation between inequality and crime.

With respect to social conflict, the spontaneous nature of social mobilization made it difficult to prove a relationship between social conflict and poverty and inequality. One of the reasons is that many individuals are reluctant to admit that they participate in protests. Furthermore, survey teams may not be on site at the exact moments protests occur. In Latin America as a whole, it seems the more wealthy are engaging in protests. However, there are a surprisingly few number of people who seem to engage in demonstrations. For the two years analyzed in this study, 2008 and 2012, only 9 percent of Colombians participated in protests for both years. Brazil saw only 6 percent of its people demonstrate in 2008 and 5 percent in 2012. In Uruguay, only 10 percent took part in social movements in 2008 and 8 percent in 2012. Lastly, only 5 percent of El Salvador’s population protested in 2008 and 4 percent in 2012. Poverty and inequality do not therefore seem to be related to participation in protests; instead protests are undertaken to draw attention to specific problems resulting from modernization.



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