Rising Incomes and Inequality of Access to Infrastructure among Latin American Households

Produced by: 
The World Bank
Available from: 
February 2017
Paper author(s): 
Marianne Fay
Stephane Straub
Topic: 
Poverty - Inequality - Aid Effectiveness
Year: 
2017

This paper documents access to services and ownership of infrastructure-related durables in the water, energy, telecom, and transport areas, based on harmonized household survey data covering 1.6 million households in 14 Latin American countries during 1992 to 2012. The paper provides a systematic disaggregation of access and ownership rates at different levels of income and over time, and econometrically derives the country infrastructure premium, a measure of how much a household benefits from simply being located in a given country. The results show extensive inequality of access, within countries across the income distribution, but also across countries for households at similar levels of income. For water and electricity, for example, up to two-thirds of the variability in individual percentile access to infrastructure services and consumption of related assets can be explained by country residence only. In addition, few country fundamentals appear to be significant in explaining this variability, pointing to policy differences as an important determinant. The paper derives the income elasticity of infrastructure access for the full set of indicators, and uses these to estimate the time that would be needed to close the remaining gap for households at different levels of the income distribution under a "business as usual" hypothesis. Under that scenario, universal access appears to be decades away for many countries in the region. The last part discusses the policy challenges, arguing that in a context in which public budgets face strong constraints and significant increases in private investment are unlikely to be forthcoming, a large part of the solution lies in refocused investment strategies, better demand management, and improved public spending efficiency.

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