Grupos de Investigación

Poverty and inequality in Latin America: a shift in the research agenda?

  • Verónica Amarante (CEPAL)
  • Martín Brum (CEPAL)
  • Cecilia Rossel (Universidad Católica de Uruguay)
Poverty and inequality have been in the center of the public debate in Latin America in the last two decades. The importance of these topics is given, at least in part, by the evidence of the high prevalence of both phenomena in the region. In this paper, we argue that the relevance of each of these topics in the academic agenda has changed, shifting from poverty to inequality during the last decade. This shift may be linked to the prevailing interests in the political agenda as well as to the evolution of the main socioeconomic indicators. In order to test our hypothesis, we analyze the academic literature on poverty and inequality referred to Latin America, considering the period 1990-2014. We study the patterns of publication in both areas, reporting bibliometric indicators based on bibliographic databases. Our queries are based on the following criteria: we looked for articles which contain the following words in the title: ‘inequality’ and/or ‘poverty’, as well as ‘Latin America’ or the name of any of 18 Latin American countries. The search was done in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and comprised published articles between 1990 and 2014. 
Bibliometric indicators were obtained from the two most popular available bibliographical databases: Thomson Reuters’ World of Science (WoS) and Elsevier Scopus. We used the online versions of these databases. The bibliographic database from Thomas Reuters has existed for more than 40 years, whereas Scopus was launched in 2004. WoS covers from 1900 on, and Scopus covers from 1966 on, but in the latter the index of citations is not available prior to 1996. Some basic proofs using Google Scholar were undertaken. In this case, problems such as information duplicity and lack of standarization are difficult to solve completely, although it has the advantage of providing access to grey literature. We are aware of the poor quality control, this database is not the best option for rigorous bibliometric studies (Jacso, 2012). Therefore we only use Google Scholar for comparative purposes in some cases. 
Considering the whole period, studies on Latin American countries represent 3% of total publications on inequality and/or poverty, and this figure is stable in the period. Despite this stability in relative terms, published research on inequality and poverty in Latin America has increased significantly in absolute terms.
The increasing trend in the number of publications presented in graph 1 is maintained when we consider poverty and inequality in separate ways. By doing so, we can visualize the increasing importance in the research on inequality when compared to that on poverty; these results hold for both data bases (and also for Google Scholar). Up to 2010, the number of publications related to poverty tended to be higher, or at least similar, to the number of publications related to inequality. This changed in the last four or five years, when inequality seems to capture the attention of researchers. 
In this article, we consider these patterns by country and by sub period of time. We also take into account the number of citations. We try to associate the importance of each topic with the prevailing economic indicators, and discuss the links between the political agenda and the research agenda. 
Keywords: poverty, inequality, bibliometric analysis, Latin America

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