So close and so unequal. The differences that are visible when touring Lima on the metro.
Cities are unequal. They take in homes of diverse socio-economic backgrounds and varied development opportunities. This has been measured in different ways for more than a century. In fact, Corrado Gini’s article, in which the nowadays famous Gini Coefficient measuring inequality was first introduced, was published in 1912.
However, beyond the statistical measurements, it is common to hear citizens say that “the inequality is visible in the streets.” In this blog post, I would like to adapt an idea that has been used by The New Yorker for New York City and by Juan Echenique and Sergio Urzua for Santiago de Chile, who used the structure of subways to show inequalities. In our case, let´s imagine that we are in Lima, the capital of Peru, and going on a ride on its metro. We go to the Grau metro stop (which is currently the closest one to the center of the city) and take line 1 in southern direction. As we pass the stops Gamarra, Arriola, La Cultura, San Borja Sur and so on until Villa El Salvador, the differences in socio-economic conditions become evident. Here I could insert a video and show you these differences, but instead I decided to combine my article with important statistics to measure the development opportunities of future citizens: the literacy and mathematic abilities of students.
At each metro stop, we ask ourselves: what percentage of students in schools located within a 1 kilometer radius achieve a satisfactory level in reading comprehension and mathematics? To do so, we use the 2012 Student Census Assessment:
It becomes apparent that the differences are vast. While there are zones in Lima, in which almost 70% of the students in the second grade of primary school are capable of understanding what they read (San Borja Sure), in others less than 30% manage to do so (Parque Industrial). And, by metro, it only takes 20 minutes to go from San Borja Sur to Parque Industrial. So close and so unequal!
Comparing these numbers of Lima with the national averages, other warning signs in terms of the inequality of the Peruvian society emerge. Moquegua, Tacna, and Arequipa are the three regions with the highest performance in reading. En these three southern regions, between 50% and 60% of the students achieve a satisfactory reading comprehension level. This puts them at approximately the level of the students in the area of the La Cultura stop (note: if you would like to visit the Ministry of Education in Lima, this is the stop to get off). However, the alarming aspect here is the following: in 15 of the 25 regions of the country, the percentage of students with satisfactory reading comprehension levels is lower than that of the schools around the Parque Industrial.
In mathematics, the general level of comprehension is lower than in reading, but the patterns of inequality between metro stops are similar. Looking at the regions, two stops (Moquegua and Tacna) exhibit better performances than the metro stop with the best performance of Lima. On the other hand, 5 regions exhibit worse performances than all other stops of line 1 of the Lima metro.
Has this inequality changed in recent years? Yes, the differences have increased even more. The following two graphs show comparisons of the results between 2007 and 2012, one for reading comprehension and the other for mathematics.
The good news that can be taken from both graphs is that the performances have improved across all stops. The less pleasant part of the news is that, as you can see, it is the metro stops that already had the best performances in 2007 which show the highest improvement in 2012. The inequality in academic achievements has increased.
The metro brings us closer, but also shows what separates us. We still have a long way to go to achieve that all the students have the same opportunities to learn and to develop throughout life. We all should contribute to building the dream of reducing inequality in our societies. Have you ever asked yourself what you can do?
Next stop: less inequality!